Mai's America

on February 28, 2002 by Charles Martin
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"Mai's America" is a marvelous documentary bursting with insights on Vietnam and America that will amaze members of both cultures. We follow the plucky and charming Mai in her not-always-successful adventure from a (relatively) middle-class existence in Hanoi to college in the United States.

Mai herself embodies the optimism and can-do spirit of the American forefathers, but in an early plot twist that could have come straight out of a Christopher Guest movie, the hapless waif is placed with a foster family representing the worst of America -- a pair of welfare cases existing out of a trailer in rural Mississippi. After struggling to overcome the influence of their inertia and depression (Mai's background places the work ethic at the very top of the philosophical ladder), she is then placed with a zealously Baptist couple who, despite their genuine friendship, are alarmingly misinformed and narrow-minded. Mai seeks refuge with Chris, the Kentucky-fried drag queen with a heart (and several teeth) of gold. Chris threatens to steal the movie with his inner struggle to "fit in" in the deep south--a battle he ultimately gives up on, at least for a while. In addition to all this, Mai must try to succeed at college so as to honor her skeptical father. This goal seems to elude Mai, even when she enlists the help of fellow out-of-place Vietnamese-American students. She ends up alone and on hiatus in Detroit--another look at the darker side of the U.S.A.

"Mai's America" shows the stark cultural differences between communist Hanoi and the capitalist USA in ways that might make one flinch at times, but it's honest and unbiased, does not sugar-coat the reality Mai finds here. It offers a rare glimpse into the mind of a foreign exchange student from an America-touched--but wholly different--world. Directed, written and produced by Marlo Poras. No distributor set. Documentary. Not yet rated. Running time: 86 min.

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