Directed by David Siev, a real-time portrait of 2020 unfolds as an Asian-American family in Trump’s rural America fights to keep their restaurant and American dream alive in the face of a pandemic, Neo-Nazis, and generational scars from the Killing Fields. Starring: Chun Siev, Rachel Siev, Jaclyn Siev, Michael Meinhold, Austin Turmell, Skyler Janssen and Raquel Siev.
With Bad Axe, David Siev explores a lot of familiar themes: racism in America, immigration, trauma, family conflict and Covid-19, and yet the way in which he does it feels entirely original. On paper it might sound like what you’ve seen before, but the viewing experience is unique. Part of that is the absolutely honest and raw way that it approaches its subjects. Getting access isn’t exactly an issue when it’s your own family but baring all of their difficulties, fights and emotions for all to see, isn’t easy. Thankfully they all agreed because that openness goes a long way to driving the impact of this documentary.
One of the most surprising things about Bad Axe is that arguably the most compelling aspect is not the prejudice they face, nor how that was intensified during the pandemic, it’s the internal conflict between their family. Particularly between patriarch Chun Siev and daughter Jaclyn Siev, their relationship is turbulent and aggressive, with constant clashes and it can even be genuinely difficult to watch at times. David Siev then takes the time reflect on why their relationship is so strained from both of their perspectives. With his father’s viewpoint being highly influenced by his traumatic past and Jaclyn coming from a place of frustration, trying to do what’s best for her parents while standing her ground and having her own life.
When you then bring through the difficulties that they face together in how their business and lives have been impacted by racism and the pandemic, it creates a grippingly growing intensity that runs through the film. Racism in America is hardly news, so you would think that its involvement here would just be par for the course and that’s exactly the issue. We’ve been so desensitised to its presence that we forget the real world consequences for those facing it. Bad Axe brings that reality to you with how much fear and fight it instils in the Siev family. It’s never about having a stiff upper lip, it’s not solely words, the family has to be hyper-aware and physically protect themselves from threats. If they purely ignored the racism that they faced, they’d be putting themselves in jeopardy and watching them having to go through that process, and the fact they even have to at all, is a punch to the gut.
That’s exactly why this documentary is so successful, its unfettered authenticity. The emotions are high, no-one holds back and you not only get a view into the Siev family’s life but into the problems faced by immigrant families across America. Particularly in how the different generations view each problem, with the first who initially built this new life being conditioned to let things roll off their back, to fit in and not rock the boat. Whereas their children see it completely differently, they want to fight back and be heard. Embracing protest movements and doing their part to see justice against the newest wave of Neo-Nazism running through the country.
Ultimately, behind the conflict, challenges and prejudice, Bad Axe comes down to being a story of resilience and love. It’s compelling, gripping, surprisingly intense and a genuinely emotional experience. It has so much to say and does so with a natural eloquence, there’s no glamorising, it doesn’t need extra context, it strikes to the heart of its issues effortlessly. The easiest way to define the power of this documentary is that once you’ve seen it, it will stay with you for a long time.