Children of the Mist is a visually impressive and tragic documentary that
focuses on the Hmong, a tribe that lives in poverty in Northern Vietnam. In some
of the finest moments, the camera pans to capture the immense beauty and sublime
majesty of the mountainous areas. If God exists, here is the evidence.
The film was short listed by the Oscars (although it failed to get nominated),
and it won the Jury Prize at the 2022 Hong Kong International Film Festival. and
it sometimes is shown on PBS’s POV show. It is also out in DVD and it is
streaming on Apple, Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, and Google Play. The DVD
includes an informative interview with the film’s director, Ha La Diem.
The region the film depicts has a tradition that the teen brides (sometimes they
are even as young as twelve) are abducted in “bridenappings” by their future
husbands in the Lunar New Year Celebration. The girls then spend three days or
more in captivity during which time the boy hopes she will decide to marry him.
Often the boy’s family is complicit in this whole operation. The village does
not think this is a serious crime and the bride nappings are fairly commonplace
(the main character’s mom and elder sister were also bride napped).
Di is the twelve-year-old protagonist in this film. She has big eyes, a warm
intelligence, and a winning smile, but the only thing that seems to connect her
to the modern world is her phone which she constantly texts on as well as her
school. She learns about feminism in school and she finds it attractive, but it
seems to have no relation on her traditional life, and she finds it hard to
reconcile it with her controlled life. Also, although she is the first person in
her family to get educated, she must prove to her skeptical parents that her
education is valuable. In her (and many others) countries education is
considered mostly as a way to make males more employable.
She belongs to the Hmong, a tribe in which the girls often get married at
shockingly young ages. Although the director is not particularly judgmental,
viewers will be horrified that this kind of thing still goes on. As it turns out
Di is engaged to a much older man but she innocently flirts with the not
terribly intelligent Vang on the phone who thinks her flirtation is serious. One
day Wang, who is a not too smart boy with a swagger picks her up on his scooter
and kidnaps her. The kidnapper Vang is confused himself and he is driven by dark
impulses he cannot understand. At one point he even says, “I don’t know why I
kidnapped her I am still a child.”
The director spent three years with Di’s family, she was also from an ethnic
minority that had their own customs so she could relate to the girl’s story.
Like Michael Moore in Roger and Me, the director, Ha La Diem sometimes takes
part in the story, and she tries to convince the kidnappers to release the girl
and let her decide what she wants to do without any coercion.
I would have rated this film higher (at least three and a half or four stars) if
it has been shorter. There is only enough great interviews and good material
here for a whole full-length film. What could have been a great sixty-minute TV
episode ended up being a merely good feature film.
Both adults and young people would gain much cross cultural understanding from
this film which will take them to another world that is so different it is
almost alien. Also, the film is easy to find and it is definitely worth seeking
In Hmong and Vietnamese, subtitled in English.