December 27, 2019  (Web Review)

Nailed It

(2018) 59 min. In English & Vietnamese w/English subtitles. DVD: $80: public libraries; $300: colleges & universities. DRA. Third World Newsreel ( PPR.

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

In her first-person documentary, Portland filmmaker Adele Pham sets out to discover why Vietnamese workers dominate the nail industry. When she was a teenager, her Vietnamese father encouraged Adele to learn the trade, but she resisted his entreaties. Lawyer Mike Vo helps his family run their nail business. He’s impressed that his Vietnamese refugee parents—who lack a college education—got a business off the ground, let alone one that includes several salons and a line of polishes. Kelvin Saint Pham, a former tech worker, fell into the trade by accident, but he’s stuck with it for 20 years. Now he runs his own salon, and becomes emotional when talking about his most loyal clients. Here, Kelvin joins Adele on a trip to the International Beauty Show in Las Vegas. Thuan Le, a manicurist since 1975, believes there are more Vietnamese nail salons than Chinese restaurants. She credits Hitchcock favorite Tippi Hedren, since the actress provided free training to women in a California refugee camp who spread their skills far and wide (in the film, several of Hedren’s original students visit her at home). As Vietnamese nail salons proliferated in the post-war years, the nail wars began: prices dropped and some salons went out of business. Since this is a poorly regulated industry, occupational hazards include long hours and exposure to harsh chemicals, although more salons are adapting less toxic formulations. As one manicurist puts it, if the fall of Saigon is history, the nail industry is destiny. By the end, the director has gained newfound respect for an underappreciated trade that has helped many Vietnamese refugees and their descendants thrive in their adopted country. Recommended. Aud: C, P. (K. Fennessy)