Dust of Life (1995) - full transcript

Based on a true story, after the US withdrawal and the fall of South Vietnam to the communist forces in 1975, many people are sent to reeducation camps. Several desperate boys in one of the camps begin planing their escape.


To Eric

VIETNAM April 30 1975




Soldier! Soldier! Let him in! He's my son!

His father's American.
Take him with you!

Let me in, for pity's sake!

Open up, for pity's sake, open up!

Three months later...

Saigon is now Ho Chi Minh City.

Soldiers arrest delinquents,
shoe-shine boys and orphans.

Let me go!

Let go! I haven't done anything!

Shut up!

Move into the stadium.



What's up with you?
- They arrested me by mistake.

Poor little dear!

All escapees will be punished.
- I'm out of here!

Listen to the comrade.

Our people is heroic, our path is the right one.

Our will is unshakeable.

Hardships and sacrifice await us

but our people's fight against the
American aggression

has saved the homeland.

Compatriots and fighters...

Let us move steadfastly forward!

Get in the truck!

We're going to Go Cong jail.

Move over! And stop snivelling!

Where did this little shit come from?

Snivel and they'll smash your face in! So shut up!

What's your name?

Son... Son N'guyen.

How old are you?
- Thirteen.

Take them somewhere else.
- Where?

There are plenty of other camps.

I was told to bring them here.

Here are my orders.

This jail is for adults.

Try to find somewhere in the north.

All the way to Danang?

Work something out! Take this lot
back to where you found them.

Get out of here!

We're leaving. A camp'll be paradise after this.

Will we stay there long?

Long enough to get well:
cleaning, digging, mine clearing...

Reeducation through work.

Get out!


- Sons of Americans and orphans.

Don't fight, children.

Move along!


Get out of the truck!

We're spending the night here=

Line up in silence!

Where are we?

On Nha Trang beach.
- I swam here with my parents.

Move it!

Nobody speak!

Nobody step out of line!
Shit and piss on the spot!

Here, this will fill you up.

Thanks. You're kind, Mai.

Call me Bob...

I'm leaving tonight.
Coming with me?

Saigon's too far, we'll never make it.
We'll see at the camp.

Danang tomorrow.
- They won't keep us long.

Is that to comfort me? My mother says:

"Your father will come for us."
But we've had no news.

Promise me something:

never mention your parents.
To anyone.

You're an orphan,

a thief... Nothing but a thief, okay?

I can tell this will be fun.
- This is paradise!

Eighty when we left Saigon.

Sixty-nine on arrival.

Line up!


Welcome to Phu Van!
You're guilty and you're criminals.

You've been gathered here thanks to
the kindness of the Socialist homeland.

Your behavior and your work will decide

whether your stay here is a long or a short one.

The sooner you make amends,

the sooner you'll be sent back to your families.

Any questions?

Can I walk the streets again after?


No, kid, you'll go to the farming centre

once you're freed and you'll work
to make your homeland prosperous.

Your homeland is Vietnam!

The American invader has abandoned you.
Remember that!

One, two! One, two!
Confronting rain

means progressing on the way to reeducation.

Defeat yourself all year.

Jerk off all year!

Go on, guys, hit him! He'll stop playing the fool!

Hands down, fucker!

I'll deal with the first to chicken out.

Go on. hit him harder!
Go on!

This is what you'll get if you don't listen to me.

Darkie, you jerk!
- Is he with you?

This is Son.
Pickpocket champion of the central station.

Get out, don't stay there.
Go on!

Two prisoners escaped last night.

They won't get far.

The jungle's full of montagnards won over by Socialism.

They'll kick your ass back to camp

and you'll end up in the tiger cage.

Watch out!

Don't trust him!
- Is he your friend?

He was. No friendships last long here.

What's the tiger cage?

Close ranks!

Brigade 8!


Who can write here?

Son N'guyen.

Make a list of the guys in your brigade

and their profession. Got that?

Yes, sir.
- Yes. Mr. Can Bo.

Yes, Mr Can Bo.

Permission to take tools!

Your name?
- I'm Cu the Bastard... Thief.

Have you got a surname?

Put N'guyen Van Cu, if you want.

Date and place of birth?
- I'm from My Tho. And you?

Got a cigarette?

Tu Bit-by-bit. I shit like that and it pisses them off.

What were you in Saigon?

A cigarette seller.

How old are you?
- 15 or 16, I don't know.

- I'm a revolutionary. It's the best job.

I asked your job.
- I don't have one.

Before the bayonets A whole race on its knees...

Work is the standart
for measuring a man's value. Repeat!

Work is the standart
for measuring a man's value!

With man's strenght, even stones
can produce rice. Repeat!

With man's strenght, even stones
can produce rice.

Why chop down such a fine tree?

To grow water-chestnuts here.

That's not true, there are ponds everywhere!

Mr Can Bo.

You were right.

You write well.

Looter or pickpocket?
- Pickpocket.

You admit your crimes?
- I admit them.

How often did you do it?
- Once.

Just once and then they arrested me.

Come here, kid.

American imperialism and puppet rebels

left an army of thieves, drug-addicts and prostitutes.

They made you a bastard, a saboteur of society.

Understand what I mean?

Yes, Mr Can Bo.

My duty is to reform you.

You know how a good boy is supposed to act?

Know what the fourth great duty is?

I don't know yet.

With the progress

we bring to the land, we will give the people dignity.

One day, you'll be free.

Here, this is for you.

You can go back to work now.

Why tell him you can write?

To get paper...

Eat to keep your strenght up.

Keep it for yourself. I'm not hungry.

This diet will kill you.

It's not your mom's cooking.

Writing to her?
- Sending the letter is the problem.

With dollars, we'll find someone.

Your pal Darkie could tell us who.
- He'll know okay, but I'd rather not.

Him, over there.

His name's Little Hai.

I think we can trust him.


I got you, huh?

Look what I found.

Look out.
One-Two wants to charm you.

At first, your hands will hurt.

It's normal. You'll even bleed.

Then the blisters will heal
and you'll have calluses. Look.

I'm Little Hai.
I'm nine.

Little Hai's the name I chose for this place.

At the orphanage, Sister Jeanne called me Paul.

Don't write down my name's Paul.
My father's an American.

Why didn't she keep you?
- The revolutionaries.

They sent all the nuns away.
They threw us out.

I hung out in the streets
and then I got arrested.

When I get out,
I'll go and find Sister Jeanne.

Come on, let's go back.

Do you know your prayers?

Yes, but you can't pray here. Article 32 of the Rules.

Hail Mary...
- Full of grace...

The Lord be with you...
- You are blessed among women...

Blessed is Jesus, fruit of your womb...
- Stop it!

It's Kim. He's dead.

- Where are they taking him?

To the Hill.

What are you doing?

- You haven't finished?

I have. This is something different.

"The tree, a bang lang,

is as tall

as a building

with three


That's about thirty feet. You can add another storey.

The hardest thing in composition

is showing the figurative meaning of what you describe.

Bamboo, for instance,

represents the upstanding, honest man.

A willow is a weakling who is swayed by the wind.

You're kind of like a weeping willow.

I'll never cry again!

Even if you're beaten?
- Of course.

You cry when it hurts too much. You can't help it.

Do what I do, just clench your teeth.

I wasn't at school for long
but that's something

I learned on my own.
- I'll write down what you just said.

Pages of my bullshit!

I'll ask One-Two for paper and he'll give me some.

Of course he will.

He's interested in what you write.

I'm not a sneak. What I write is for you, for meq for all of us.

It's no use. If you scream, no one will hear you.

It's like putting a message in a bottle.

I have to write. I can't explain why.

Hide that book. If Darkie gets hold of it...

He's not a "running dog". Why do you suspect him?

No reason...

Right, enough talk.
You should get back to bed.

I'll steal paper for your novel.

Get to sleep!

You want to see me?

Show me what you write.

Is it a diary?

Where's your family?

My mother's in Saigon.

My father's an American soldier.

He left.

He abandoned you?

Men like him left us 40,000 kids like you when they fled.

Write that in your diary.

Your country is Vietnam. Don't forget that.

No, I'd rather eat like the others.

It would be nice to eat here.

We eat in the clearing for a reason.

A river can give ideas.

If I was Can Bo,

I'd keep an eye on it.

Can Bo can't see further than his nose.

The clearing's there.
You workq eat and shit on the spot.

Great for turnover!
- They fouled up.

You can't work well without a break.

I'll talk to One-Two, he's bound to agree...

What's wrong with him?
- He broke something in his leg.

Lie him down.

Go on.

- You're still here?

You have relatives in Saigon.
- Did he tell you that?

Yes. My mother's in Saigon.

What's it to me?

I've got a letter for her.

So you're the writer!

If you coud take care of it...

you'd help me a lot.

You know it's not allowed!

I don't think anything's broken.

I'll see what I can do. Go back to your hut.

Son asked to eat by the river.

If he pulls a fast one,
I'll beat him up.

Keep away fro him.
If he fucks up, I'll handle it.

What does he write in his book?

Poems he learned at school.

He's sick in the head.
He's just a bourgeois fucker.

He isn't like us. I saw it right away.

Don't trust him.

Get out! Others fertilise fields too!

Your turn!

Get out of there!
Come on, out!

Get a move on!

If the Can Bo asks again, keep quiet!

If you don't talk,
you get twenty lashes.

Better than working for them.

Don't wind Darkie up.

He's dangerous.
- Secret conversations?

The others are waiting.

Look at Darkie. He's "working"!

Iron Muscles promised him an extra rice ration.

In Cambodia they say:
"Eat anything on 2 legs, except ladders".

No they say that in Vietnam.

"Eat anything on 4 legs,
except tables, or that flies, except planes."

And anything that floats, exept shit!

Come here!

That smells good...

You can eat it.

What's that there?


What is it?
- It's an image.

What of?
- Of God...

Of Jesus?

Baby Jesus lying naked in his crib?
You're a nice little Christian then?

Yes, Mr Can Bo.

Was it to eat rice, drink tea,
catch diarrhoea and reproduce

that you became Christians?
- No, Mr Can Bo.

You dare to contradict me!
Thanks to people like you,

Vietnam fell into slavery for a whole century.

Did you know that?
On your knees!

Hold your arms out!

Fall out!

Comrades, welcome!

I want to thank the Bu here.
Although they aren't the same race as us,

they have displayed extreme awareness of the patriotic values

that, never forget, are the foundation

of our Socialist society.
Follow thair fine example

and our country will find abundance and joy!

Sing to honour our guests!

Get to the tiger cage!

My mother wrote.
- Via the doctor?

His wife brought it from Saigon.

Is your mother coming?
- No.

She can't get permission to leave Saigon.

Any news from your father?
- No.

I've got something for you.

Thank you, it's a beautiful cross.
- I polished it.

I made a Christ, but he was so sad, I threw him away.

Christ doesn't laugh on his cross.

Forward march!

If you're interested,

one puff is 100 "caresses" or 400 waves of a fan.

Work first, smoke later!
Come on!

Come and get a massage.

I'd rather write in my notebook.

Hear that? It's Pit-face yelling in his cage.

Tigers yell like that when they're about to die.

Ever met a tiger?
- I've seen some, in the zoo.

Do they scare you?

No, they're behind bars.

Why doesn't the other one yell?

He must be dead. Pit-face is a tough customer.

What are you looking at?

This goes to the sea.
- All rivers go to the sea.

None flow up mountains.

That's right! There aren't any montagnards by the sea.

And no mine-fields either!

We'll leave.

From here to Saigon, it's about
200 miles along the Song Be.

We'll build a raft!
Little Hai can get food

and I'll draw a map of the stars.
I'll find Sister Jeanne!

You'll spend Christmas together!


Get out of there!

I'm coming with you.

There are already 3 of us.

If you go, I go! You won't get me like Darkie.

Darkie, roll call!

Roll call! Step up!

- Teo Tep. I want to make a report.

Go ahead!

The last time I saw him, it was in the clearing.

He went into the woods to answer a call of nature.

Maybe he escaped.

Remember what we said.

Son! Report!
- Don't be afraid...

I've got nothing to say about Darkie's escape.

Escape? You've all agreed to tell the same story.

They've killed him, sir!
- He's a liar!

Apart from what Teo Tep says,
which I take with a pinch of salt,

how can you, who saw nothing,
claim that he escaped?

Sit down.

Did he say he planned to escape?

No. If he'd said anything to me,
I'd have told you.

What does article 32 of the Rules say?

"No superstitious beliefs or religious worship allowed."

That's good, you know the rules.

What if I asked you to renounce your religion?

How can you kill the old man within you
if you persist with your mistakes?

Do you still believe that rubbish?
- He's a liar!

He claims he's a believer?

So you say Darkie escaped? On his own?
That's pure madness!

He is mad, sir.
- What do you mean?

He's in a bad way. He hates Viets.
- That's a crime! And you didn't report it!

He'd have killed me!

You all killed him!
- No, that's not true.

Dead or alive, we'll find him.
- Get inside!

He's intelligent. Way too intelligent for my liking.

Try to keep an eye on him and his pals.

Are you taking him?
- We've got no choice.

I don't trust him.

Have you copied the map?
- Yes.

We've got the map and the food!
WE just have to finish the raft!

Pray to your God that it works.

I'm getting used to this camp.
Sometimes, I think I should stay.

Are you crazy?

AS head of the house,
I can help the others.

Make things easier...

You think you can change the world on your own.

Shit will always be shit!


Nam Died in November 1975

Tran "Pit-face" Died in November 1975

What are you eating?

Spit that out right now!

I was hungry.

You take State property? I'll give you State property!

Hold your arms out.


You, pick up and count 50 poatatoes.

Get back to your work!

Mr Can Bo come quick.

Don't you think enough people die here already?

I'm going to report you.

You can kiss your promotion good-bye.

Take him to the sick-bay.

Go without me. After Christmas will be too late.

Go, for pity's sake.

Son, you have to go.

When you get to Saigon, go to see Sister Jeanne.

She lives in Vinh,
39, Tu Xuong Street.

Maybe she knows where my father is in America.

Enough, get out! If they see
you praying, I'll be in trouble!

Don't worry about me. I'll be all right, I promise.

According to the map, the Khmer Rouge are around here.

When we get to Saigon, come to my place.
We'll be okay there.

You'll meet my cousins.
Their skin is as soft as silk.

I've got a name for the raft.

"Shepherd's Star".

The Magi were looking for the manger
where Jesus was born.

They saw his star in the East.

Tell us!

The star in the East led them to the
place where the child was.

When they came in, they saw his mother, Mary.

They opened their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

It happened in Palestine, in the days of King Herod.

Stop! Come back!

There they are!

Stop! Last warning!

Turn back!

We've got to go!

We'll never make it.

Get up, we've got to go on.

Do you want to end up in the tiger cage?

We'll get to Saigon.

We'll stay together for good.


Don't stop!

Fall in!

Hurry up!

To celebrate our two friends' return,
we'll grant you an extra rice ration.

We celebrate New Year
in one week's time.

Down with Uncle Ho!

On this fine occasion, the best will be freed.

They'll join their families
and happily celebrate the return of Spring!



Take them to the tiger cage!

You really scared me...

Can you hear me?

Answer me!

Speak! Speak! Little Hai is here.

You won't let yourselves die, will you?

Want to pray with me?
- Not now, I need more paper.

I'll bring you some.

Remember to bring me the names in the bottles.

Is your Christian name Paul?
- Yes, write it in your book.

Quick, catch!



Don't leave me!

Don't leave me!

We've got to act fast. What'll happen is they'll clamp down on us.

You know Can Bo.
I know how to pull a fast one on sneaks.

How do you do it?
- As a warning,

we kill one, the most devious and rotten one, Seo the Ass-licker.

No, he's a child like us. We mustn't!

See any children here? They kill us, we kill, no children last.

Come on.
You're leaving.

This film is based on a true story: after the Vietnam War,

40 000 American children stayed on after the Gl's left.

Today, several thousand remain in the south of Vietnam,

hoping to leave for the USA one day...