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American and Vietnamese cyclists find common ground in moving documentary 'Blood Road'

American and Vietnamese cyclists find common ground in moving documentary 'Blood Road'
Rebecca Rusch and Huyen Nguyen ride the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the documentary "Blood Road." (Josh Letchworth)

Produced by Red Bull Media House, "Blood Road" goes far beyond the extreme sports film one might expect. Instead, the documentary is a triumph, more about emotional states than grueling physical challenges. It explores the budding friendship between two women whose fathers fought on opposing sides of the Vietnam War and the aftermath that still haunts the region.

Decades after her father's plane was shot down, endurance mountain biker Rebecca Rusch journeys to visit his jungle crash site. Accompanied by accomplished Vietnamese cyclist Huyen Nguyen, Rusch bikes 1,200 miles of the Ho Chi Minh trail. The women bond as they travel through caves and over rickety bridges, passing bomb craters and discovering commonalities in their lives. The film examines not only the trail across Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia but also the scars left on the land and people of Southeast Asia.

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Director Nicholas Schrunk deserves credit for pedaling through the jungle with the two world-class athletes, yet remains entirely unseen and unmentioned. Instead, he's made an artful documentary that focuses entirely on Rusch, Nguyen and their mission. Well-crafted graphics explain the history and the terrain, but "Blood Road" never feels didactic. The film is a moving experience for both its subjects and the audience.

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'Blood Road'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

Playing: Downtown Independent, Los Angeles, through June 25; also on VOD

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