(director/writer: Sing J. Lee; screenwriter: Christopher Chen/based on a 2017GQarticle by Paul Kix; cinematographer: Michael Fernandez; editor: Yang Hua Hu; music: Julien Saporiti/Jon Ong; cast: Hiep Tran Nghia (Long Ma), Dustin Nguyen (Tay), Dali Benssalah (Aden), Phi Vũ (Eddie), Gabrielle Chan (Lan Ma); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Kimberly Steward/Basil Iwanyk/Andy Sorgie/Brendon Boyea/Joseph Hieu; Thunder Road Films; 2023-USA-in English and Vietnamese)

A crime drama with a message.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A crime drama with a message, set in Southern California, that turns down a different path after its promising premise. It’s the debut feature film by the renown music video director Sing J. Lee, who co-writes it with Christopher Chen. It’s based on a 2017 GQ article by Paul Kix.

Three Vietnamese-American lowlifes, the engaging Tay (Dustin Nguyen),
the menacing Aden (Dali Benssalah) and the surly young man Eddie (Phi Vu), escape from an Orange County prison and late at night call for a cab. By gunpoint they kidnap the elderly and world-weary Vietnamese cabdriver Long Ma (Hiep Tran Nghia), who was awakened in his apartment and met his passengers on a dark street. The men stop to hide at a motel until the search for them lessens. The hostage is fearful despite told by the men no one needs to get hurt.

In the morning,
at another motel, Aden leaves to get forged papers for their escape plans. To pass the time, the group’s leader Tay talks to Long, telling him his story.  

Flashbacks and dream sequences are woven into the narrative as Tay, who has taken a liking to the old man, tries telling him they are both alike since they have been both pushed aside by a society that neglects them — whether due to their foreign culture, their criminal behavior, their age or simply because that’s the way life goes. Long can see that and nods in agreement.

Long’s back story is how after the war he fled to America to reunite with his children, but could no longer relate with them. They were Americanized and only spoke English, and he could speak little English and could not adjust to his new country.

After Tay and Long make a connection, the suspense subsides and the tone of the film deals with Long coming to grips with how he really feels about his immigrant life and loss of country and children.

It shuns a Hollywood happy ending or becoming too sentimental, and ends on a modest note waxing on about the need for family and to be connected to the country where one resides.

  It played at the Sundance Film Festival.

The Accidental Getaway Driver