“To the South and Back” explores interesting, even controversial, themes, but writer-director Phi Tien Son doesn’t yet have the resources, or the style, to make a film that will gain wide acceptance from Western audiences. Pic is likely to be confined to fests with Asian segments, or TV networks looking to highlight cinema from this part of the world. The first job will be to provide comprehensible English subtitles, since the translation on the print caught was misspelt, ungrammatical and often quite misleading, starting with the “official” English title of the film, “Heading South Going North.”
Pic is bookended by scenes at a nightclub in present day Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), where a businessman thinks he recognizes a glamorous hostess as the little girl who helped him during the war when he deserted the Communist army. Making a deserter a hero, however flawed, is a breakthrough, and the theme of innocent peasants corrupted by modern city life is a potent one. Pic is attractively photographed, but some acting seems strained. Scene of a Yank bombing attack on a village is moderately well staged on an obviously meager budget.