“Children of the Mist” is a documentary exploring the kidnapping of young girls within the Hmong ethnic group in the isolated mountainous regions of northern Vietnam where the mist often drifts in. A component of the Hmong culture is the kidnapping of underage girls for the purposes of marriage as young as thirteen years of age. We follow Di for two years until she is kidnapped at 14 ½ years of age by a boy Vang that is of a similar age.
As a Canadian you may be outraged by the term “kidnapping”. However initially for some viewers it would appear to be at best perhaps a rather bizarre courtship ritual but at the conclusion of the documentary this interpretation is subject to fallibility. It evolves into attempted coercion, violent misogyny and inexcusable behaviour illegal under Vietnamese law where 18 is the legal marrying age.
Di appears to be willingly kidnapped by Vang. Vang’s family pays a visit to Di’s family to negotiate a dowry to be paid for Di. So many kilos of pork, chickens, rice wine and cash. Dad loves his rice wine and is plastered throughout much of the documentary. Vang’s father is a raging violent alcoholic. Matters become more oppressive and violent after that meeting particularly after a visit to Vang’s family. Vang is a high school dropout with no future. Di realizes she wants no part of this bleak future and drinks a “no thank you” glass of rice wine. Eventually Vang downs a glass and Di is left alone.
Cultural tolerance is one matter but should our tolerance extend to primitive and violent practices that should be universally rejected. Even the local political committee condemns the behaviour but in a rather lukewarm fashion. You may ask where in these impoverished Hmong rural villages Colonel Kurtz is sleeping and muttering to himself.
This 2021 Vietnamese documentary opens at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on 15February2023.
RKS 2023 Film Rating 86/100.