All right: I'm as shocked as anyone to learn that Green Dragon is being released this week. I'm sure that it will get screwed up since so far the release looks like a secret one. But just in case Green Dragon is in a theatre near you this weekend, you should know that it's incredibly good — just lacking in the funds to make it onto constant TV commercials.
Green Dragon is the first feature directed by Timothy Linh Bui, whose brother Tony, directed Three Seasons. The brothers wrote the script together. Indeed, Green Dragon — about the lives of Vietnamese in a California detention camp in 1975 — was one of the strongest, most coherent, and artfully accomplished films at Sundance 2001, along with In the Bedroom.
I wrote in this column back in January 2001: In Green Dragon, Patrick Swayze — sporting a regulation Army crewcut — is the staff sergeant in charge of Camp Pendelton, where Vietnamese refugees are flooding in as Saigon is falling and the war in Indochina is over. The Bui's — sort of the Vietnamese Coen brothers — use Swayze's character as a plot device from which they explore the various lives of the camp's inhabitants. Primary among these is a man (Don Duong) watching over his young niece and nephew. Their mother has been left behind in Saigon and now the children wait for their mother, whom the audience senses will not be making the trip.
At the same time, Minh, the nephew, is befriended by the camp cook, played by Forest Whitaker, who teaches him about painting and life. In other hands, Green Dragon might be a little too saccharine. But Bui pulls the whole thing off deftly — and Swayze's understated performance is what holds the movie together. Green Dragon is full of wonderful acting, in fact, and among the standouts is Vietnamese actor Duong. His compassionate portrayal of a man torn between two cultures is memorable.
After the screenings, I got a chance to chat with Patrick. I asked him what motivated him to turn his career in this direction. "I have too much energy not to," he told me. "These are projects we went after aggressively. I didn't want to keep doing the same things over and over. I wanted to grow and get as much out of this business as I can."
Swayze is in a tough position right now in Hollywood. One of the good guys, he's trying to branch out and produce his own projects. He appeared in the indie film Donnie Darko, which played at Sundance 2000 and released theatrically last year. He's in Waking Up in Reno, a film that has sat on Miramax's shelf for a long time and may go straight to video with a weeklong theatre release. He's just started George and the Dragon, another indie financed film, in which he co-stars with Michael Clarke Duncan of The Green Mile.
But Green Dragon is a neat accomplishment for Swayze and Bui. If the film can find some audience out there, it might hold on. Where are all those Dirty Dancing and Ghost fans anyway? This is the time to get mobilized. You won't be disappointed.
It's been announced and unannounced for release several times. Where the heck is the first album by Carly Simon and James Taylor's offspring, Ben?
The record was recorded for Sony's Epic label some time ago — like 18 months. But the division of Epic that it was made for, the WORK label, got folded into the bigger company when their other releases didn't make a noise.
Recently, Epic listed the album as being scheduled for release in February — much to the surprise of everyone including, apparently, Ben. When he found out, he posted this response on a Web site devoted to his father's career:
"It seems now (years later), that Epic plans to release that album: I am surprised, and somewhat concerned as to which mixes of which songs they may be intending to release. Then again, I suppose I am one of a great many artists who would like to go back and re-do their first album.
"I understand it will be in some stores in March though, as of yet, Sony has made no effort to enlist my assistance in the album's promotion. We shall have to see."
The posting seems to have been enough to scare off Epic. When I called there last week, the PR department claimed not to know anything about it. Taylor is no longer on the release schedule, and his album may wind up being a collector's item for someone, somewhere.
Meanwhile, Taylor seems to be going the way of his older sister Sally, who markets her albums over the Internet. He's written, produced and funded a new album, and is currently arranging for distribution. How ironic, since their parents have had contracts with the major labels for 30-plus years, that the Taylor kids have chosen the indie route. I guess they witnessed enough to realize it's not worth the headaches sometimes. Good for them.
Oh yeah: just in case you grew up on Carly and James's music, and you're wondering, this will make you feel old: Sally is 28 and Ben is 24 this year.
I've been wondering where powerhouse singer Whitney Houston's been lately. No word on Whitney, but solid reports from the Ritz Carlton Hotel in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta have Whitney's husband, Bobby Brown, hanging out steadily in the lobby bar, using it an as office of sorts and not being entirely discreet in his dealings. The couple owns a home in Atlanta, where some observers would suggest Bobby move his business for more privacy. There are prying eyes everywhere it seems.