Can Can follows a Vietnamese American man who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The film documents how Can Truong was an
overachiever in high school. With the intention of going to medical school, he wanted to make
his dad proud and become a doctor. However, his mental illness forced him out of the University
of Chicago in his junior year. The film shows that Can’s story is common for many Vietnamese
Americans but that addressing mental illness in the Vietnamese American community is difficult
because it remains a taboo subject. Originally, Korean American director Pearl Park hoped to
document the lives of three Asian American subjects with mental illness and their families.
However, finding people who would agree to disclose their mental disabilities to a mass
audience proved difficult. So Park decided to focus on Can Truong, who was known for his
advocacy work in the field of healthcare. As a "consumer," one who lives with mental illness and
advocates for better healthcare, Can has spoken at numerous national mental health conferences
and talked openly about obtaining his college degree, despite his mental disabilities. As Park
explains, "[Can has] defied many cultural norms by speaking publicly about living with bipolar
disorder and by teaching consumers how to get accommodations in college through the
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990."
Can is a breakthrough documentary, as it allows us to witness the pain, struggles and challenges
of a person who lives with mental illness. The film is also inspiring in opening up a crucial
conversation about mental illness in our communities. As the filmmaker has stated, "By
dispelling the taboo power of mental illness, we hope to dissipate the denial and shame
surrounding the subject. We want to improve the quality of public discourse about the subject of
mental illness, and step up the ensuing search for answers."