The first scene of Children of the Mist shows a fog rolling over a valley and vanishing as quickly as it came. This scene is emblematic of the fleeting childhood innocence that disappears for Di, a thirteen-year-old girl who is trying to avoid a bridal kidnapping.
Children of the Mist is set in northern Vietnam and follows a group of Hmong people. Throughout the film's 90-minute run time, it is made clear that bridal kidnappings are common in the culture of the group. In these bridal kidnappings, a boy and his family will take a girl from her home and force her into a marriage. There are customs and rules in the culture for how these kidnappings take place due to their deep ingratiation into the group’s way of life.
Diem HÀ Lê, the creator of the documentary, follows Di as she attempts to avoid her own bridal kidnapping to pursue an education. Diem captures the many facets of Di’s personality: she is all at once a playful child, a hard worker in the fields and a headstrong adolescent who argues with her parents and boys.
While Di grows and learns, her mother warns her to be careful of being kidnapped but speaks of these occurrences casually. Throughout the film, Di’s mother clearly still experiences the pain connected with her own kidnapping, along with the sadness she feels when Di is missing and her ambivalent respect for tradition. Diem highlights the tension in Di’s mother’s dedication to culture and family, as she is often forced to choose one or the other.
Diem expertly toes the line between filmmaker and friend. While creating a story that sheds light on an ancient culture, Diem becomes a key part of Di’s life. The family comes to view Diem as Di’s older sister and as a close friend. Diem even must step in at parts of the film to help pull Di back and prevent her from becoming part of a bridal kidnapping.
This film explores a completely different culture from Western society but takes the viewer on a familiar emotional journey that navigates tradition and knotted family ties.