Film Review: Bố Già (Dad, I'm Sorry)

Bố Già, starring multi-hyphenate and Vietnamese sensation Trấn Thành, debuts in U.S theaters after shattering box office records in Vietnam.

Image courtesy of the movie.

WARNING: this article may contain spoilers of Bố Già (Dad, I’m Sorry) in its review of the film. Please read at your own risk. 

Walking into a local movie theatre for an evening showing of Bố Già (Dad, I’m Sorry), a Vietnamese comedy-drama that centers around a turbulent father-son relationship, I was pleasantly surprised to see a full house (socially distanced with every party spaced out and following COVID-19 regulations, of course). 

But statistics prove that I shouldn’t have been so surprised; Bố Già, boasted the highest-grossing opening weekend in U.S. theatres for a Vietnamese-produced film with over $400k in ticket sales and eventually became the first Vietnamese-produced title to surpass $1M. Bố Già fared even better domestically, earning over $17M in Vietnam, where it quickly became a smash hit. 

The box office success of Bố Già was also precipitated by the massive popularity of the five-part web drama upon which the film was based. As a continuation of this online series, Bố Già features the messy histrionics of a dysfunctional Vietnamese family, primarily focusing on the rocky relationship shared between Sang (Trấn Thành), a low-income taxi-motorbike driver who is fiercely protective of his family and set in his traditional ways, and his millennial-aged son, Woan (Tuấn Trần), who is a headstrong, cheeky YouTuber whose lofty ambitions and lavish lifestyle often become points of contention between the two.

However, I felt right at home laughing along with other moviegoers at the many different jokes and gags peppered throughout Bố Già, and it felt rewarding to finally see people who looked and acted so similarly to those I had grown up with and been raised by on the big screen. 

The overbearingly nosy, brutally honest, and raucously loud siblings and family members of Sang felt eerily similar to my own aunts and uncles. Every older character’s vehement fixation on respecting elders and abandoning the use of ‘attitude’ when talking back instantly brought me back to lectures from my parents that I received as a young child. 

I even related to Woan’s despair in a hilarious scene at the beginning of the movie when Sang excitedly shows Woan (much to Woan’s chagrin) that he had gotten his designer ripped jeans professionally sewn up because they were ‘torn’ and ‘broken’—I cannot possibly count how many times I’ve had to explain to my mother that distressed jeans are meant to be that way for style, and no, my legs aren’t freezing in them. 

But above all, I saw my own father reflected in Sang from his adamant, yet often irrational valuing of family above everything to his fatal flaw of being overly generous and selfless to a fault. Sang continually sacrifices his own enjoyment, comfort, and financial freedom to provide for his often thankless family members, even downplaying serious physical ailment to continue working—just like my dad, who I’ve never seen take time off from work even for kidney stones, wisdom teeth removal, you name it.

Perhaps these traits comprise the ingredients to the recipe for a typical Vietnamese father that I just hadn’t been aware of previously. Either way, it was almost comforting to see such an archetype be played out as there have never been any patriarchal characters in traditional film and media that I have felt connected to. Walking away from the film, I felt like I had gained a greater understanding of my father, which is very hard to come by as he is a reserved man of few words.

For young Vietnamese Americans navigating the challenging journey of coming to terms with one's ethnic and cultural identities, Bố Già plays a critical role in providing necessary representation of our culture and our stories. Even though the movie takes place in Vietnam, where the culture is distinctly different than its transplanted version in the U.S, the narrative still felt familiar, which is a rare finding in Hollywood, an industry that has historically prioritized white-centered narratives.

However, though I personally found Bố Già’s portrayal of Vietnamese family dynamics a touching and worthwhile experience, I am hesitant to recommend this film to others, especially those who are not of Vietnamese descent. 

As many critics have pointed out, the film is extremely dialogue-heavy, but I wouldn’t have minded the dialogue had a larger portion of it been more meaningful. A majority of the dialogue was arguments between various members of Sang’s family, but many of these disputes are left unresolved by the movie’s end and contribute little to the main plotline revolving around the relationship between Sang and Woan. 

Though an abundance of time and effort was very evidently spent crafting Sang and Woan’s storylines to turn the pair into dynamic characters who ultimately satisfy their arcs by growing into better individuals, every other subplot with other family members felt woefully underdeveloped. None of the family members ever admit to their selfishness and greed; in fact, nearly all of them essentially remain static for the duration of the film. Days after watching the film, I still am left questioning why so many characters were so frequently included, only to be left so half-baked. 

Ultimately, Bố Già triumphs as a cornerstone for Vietnamese representation and storytelling in the U.S., but leaves much to be desired as a cinematic production in terms of character and plot development.

Bố Già (Dad, I’m Sorry) was originally released in U.S theatres on May 28, 2021. 

Image courtesy of the movie.

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