Review: Bad Axe


During the genocidal days of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Chun Siev, ran for days through crossfire with his mother and five siblings to freedom in Thailand. At a Red Cross camp, they are asked where they want to go. His mother, Sing Mo Siev, firmly says, “The United States of America.”

Chun Siev’s family ends up running a Mexican-Asian-American restaurant in Bad Axe, Michigan. This film ends up as a love story written to Bad Axe, despite their challenges there with Covid, Trump and White Supremacy.

It is an unlikely film to have made the cut for the top 15 Oscar nominations for best documentary. There is no fancy, dare-devil cinematography, no expensive computer-generated images, and no famous person. This is an honest documentary shot like a family home video by David Siev, Chun’s son, about the time of challenge for his family beginning in 2019.

David weaves his father’s nightmare in the Cambodian killing fields throughout the film. This editing of archival clips drives our understanding of the Siev family. We grasp that freedom of expression, freedom of choice, and basic independence are invaluable attributes of the true American Dream. Gratitude for these core American values reverberates through this film.

When Covid comes, Chun’s oldest and well-spoken daughter, Jaclyn, is terrified that her parents will get it and die. They consider abandoning the restaurant. However, on conferring with her siblings, Jaclyn announces that the parents will stay home and the children will run the restaurant and transition to take-out.

They intend to run the restaurant as safely as possible because they all live in the same house. Their mom is in a high-risk category so they are religious about wearing masks and using sanitizer. But in Bad Axe there are Trumpers who insist on entering the restaurant without protection. Police have to be called to contain the escalating altercation.

Chun Siev is frustrated that not everyone in town is following the Covid rules, Some tell him to go back where he came from.

After George Floyd is killed, Jaclyn thinks she needs to be part of a Bad Axe protest. Her picture, albeit in a crowd, ends up in the local paper. This further fuels community anger directed toward the Chun family restaurant.

Trucks hang out by the restaurant with Confederate flags, revving their motors and following the younger daughter, Raquel, as she drives home.

How all these challenges are turned into a love letter to Bad Axe is part of the magic of Chun Siev’s personality. He says, “Some people will never understand what hate and evil can do to a human being, but I do.” How he guides his family through this time of trouble and influences his son’s video story is so deep, meaningful and good that few will be left dry-eyed.

Ranking: 10/10


Director: David Siev
Producers: Jude Harris, Diane Moy Quon, David Siev, and Katarina Vasquez
Cinematography: David Siev
Editors: Peter Wagner and Rosie Walunas
Music: Stephanie Kowal
Featuring: Rachel and Chun Siev and family
Official Website:

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