NEWS ANALYSIS, SEPTEMBER 21, 2002

 

 

THE MOVIES BY DON DUONG

 

YYY

 

Last week, the top VCP leaders ordered an investigation and launched a coordinated attack against a very popular movies actor who had been playing major roles in the two famous movies: "We Were Soldiers" and "Green Dragon." Both were produced in the United States. For the last decade, Don Duong, the actor, was playing several major characters in movies produced by the Vietnam state-controlled films making firms before signing contracts with producers in America.

 

Since last month, Hanoi leaders have held many conferences at many party and government agencies, discussing the Don Duong case.  He is accused of being "traitor, betraying his motherland..."

 

In early September, the Hanoi army newspaper joined in the humiliating campaign. An article of the paper accuses Don Duong as "a lackey of hostile    forces, smearing the image of the People's Army soldiers and
smearing the Vietnamese people, Don Duong has sold his conscience at a cheap price and has become a traitor."
The article says that Don Duong "must be strictly disciplined," his wrongdoing is "unforgivable" and accused him of showing no remorse for "distorting the history of the just war and the humanity of the
Vietnamese people".
 The criticism is directed at Don Duong in "We Were Soldiers."

 

In We Were Soldiers, Don Duong was playing the role of a North Vietnam Communist army lieutenant colonel, the field commander of the Ia Drang battles against the 7th Air Cavalry of the US Army 101st Air Mobile. He appeared in a short time span, giving instructions to his subordinates. His somehow fleshy and intellectual countenance and robust constitution in a nicely tailored khaki uniform made him look much better than a real Communist commander at the time.

 

In the "Green Dragon" Don Duong plays the interpreter who assisted American Marines in charge of a refugees' camp management. His work and what were happening are shown as if in a news report, with full of facts and without any plot of propaganda or exaggeration. Hanoi authority however, accused him as a traitor "who discourages refugees from returning home, voicing fears for their safety and liberty."

The Communist authorities have also accused Don Duong for his acting in "Green Dragon", which
is based on the stories of the first refugees who fled Vietnam in 1975 in one of the camps across the
United States, Camp Pendleton in California.  The movie was made on the very Camp with some restoration of its appearance in 1975.

Both films are officially banned in Vietnam but pirate copies are widely available.

In all conferences and discussions accusing Don Duong, the Communist authorities said Don Duong had insulted Vietnam by repeating their political cliché "turning his back on his country and his people". They decided to ban him from traveling overseas, and preventing him from appearing in all movies for five years. Sources in Hanoi and Saigon expected that Communist leaders might be imposing harsher punishment on Don Duong including a heavy fine of several thousand dollars. But in another possibility, in order to respond to world public opinion, if necessary, Hanoi might even drop the case after making big noises.

 

Many Vietnamese people see the movie in a different view. For the first time since the collapse of the SVN republic, does a war story film support the American military, showing their real combat atmosphere and environs and American soldiers were fighting heroically against the North Vietnamese regulars. And also for the first time, does an American-made movie show the Americans' victory over the enemy who had often been falsely praised by the American press.

 

On the weekend issue, Nhan Dan (People's) daily online published another article to attack Don Duong and his movies' producers. The article argues, "Here the image of the liberation fighters had been misinterpreted when the commander of the liberation force ordered to kill all the prisoners. Or during the fierce fight, he could only stay inside the bunker and when the battle was over, he came back to collect the dead bodies of his soldiers and plant the US flag at the foot of a tree."

 

The same article even asserts that on April 30, 1975, "When the day of complete victory came, the whole country was fully covered with national flags and flowers, and right in Saigon, the last bulwark of the US-puppet regime, people from all walks of lives took to street to welcome the triumphant liberation fighters. There was no revenge, no “blood bath” happening as the hostile forces had once hullabalooed. And today Vietnam in the process of renovation, those who had worked for the old regime are now integrating themselves with the community in a great block of national unity for a prosperous people, powerful country, equal, democratic and civilised society."

 

Nhan Dan is still relying on the old-fashioned propaganda style in its articles as if it were now the year 1945. What the paper should have admitted is the fact that after only a year under the Communist regime, waves of refugees fleeing the country despite dangers on seas and in jungles where about 100,000 lost their lives. More than two millions of Vietnamese fled to Western countries, not including millions of others who failed to escapes. This is for the first time in the history of the world and of Vietnam; such a large number of refugees fled their country to another that is nearly 20,000 kilometers far away because of a despotic regime. Green Dragon is just one little words of the epic memorizing the heroic exodus.

 

As to those who had been working for the pre-75 Republic of Vietnam government, the Vietnam Communist Party regime still imposes on them a political background segregation system. It is not in a written text, but the directives to have it implemented are given in verbal orders.

 

There was no real "bloodbath" but thousands of South Vietnamese were executed in the first three days following April 30, 1975. And several thousands of the half million South Vietnamese incarcerated in the so-called "re-education" camps died from malnutrition, untreated sicknesses, accidents and exhaustion in the first three years in prison camps.

 

Hanoi vilification aimed at Don Duong is understandable. Tyrants are very sensible to every criticism that may incite instability and mass protests against their ruling power. They might have disregarded any foreign anti-Communist writings and movies such as "Rambo" because these productions reach only a limited audience in Vietnam.

 

The two movies mentioned above are different. In both movies, Don Duong is acting along with Hollywood's stars Mel Gibson, Madeleine Stowe (We Were Soldiers) and Patrick Swayze and Forest Whitaker (Green Dragon). That makes the movies more attractive to young Vietnamese, especially Green Dragon, which is a Vietnamese language production. And it also contains scenes that firmly prove Hanoi was lying about almost everything related to the former state of South Vietnam.

 

The article also admits, "However, this also shows certain loopholes in management of the cinematography sector and in the legal system."  It warns, " So it is urgent to make amendments and additions to the existing legal documents relating to the cinematographic activities so that the film makers and the actors/actresses can have a legal corridor to work in accordance with the law." 

 

Don Duong went to America as a tourist a few years ago. He visited the United States many times after he won contracts for the movies; two of the producers are his nephews Tommy Bui and Timothy Bui, the two siblings, who reportedly are also banned from entry into Vietnam.

 

In the two films, he does nothing actively against the Communist side and its leaders besides acting as instructed by the script. He felt that his works were solely of artistic nature and based on facts that have been well comprehended by the world public. He hadn't expected any trouble when he returned to Vietnam to take care of his old mother and two children. Many overseas Vietnamese say that the elegant appearance of Don Duong while acting the Communist colonel should have been highly appreciated by Hanoi leaders

instead.

 

Under non-Communist regimes, similar cases may not be a matter of the leaders' concern. But in Vietnam, top Communist leaders sometimes meddle in their subordinates' domain of responsibility in cases that are not worth their worries.

 

Why Hanoi leaders didn't act promptly right after the two movies were released is one of several questions concerning the angry reactions by the VCP Politburo. Green Dragon hit the big screen in 2001 and We Were Soldiers in early 2002.

 

It is well known that Communist leaders are always over-sensible to propaganda matters. One of the reasonable answers may have been the slow reaction of the Communist politic security agencies. It always takes time for the Party cultural and ideology officials to comprehend the whole matters after unfavorable contents of a production have been noticed. In the past, many cultural and literature productions weren't confiscated or banned until six months after their first appearance in public.

 

More possibly, the fast growing popularity of the two movies from Saigon to Hanoi only in recent months may have alerted VCP central leaders and urging them to act. Besides, discipline measures may have been taken as an exemplary punishment to scare artists and writers into obedience, in particular singers who are going abroad to perform musical shows for overseas Vietnamese communities. They also are taken to support the Party central committee's campaign to boost its control on the press corps and the information exchange over the Internet as stated in the most recent resolutions of the Party Central Committee.

 

The Vietnamese Communist leaders have their own ways to govern, but they often are following the rule of "no-rule." Therefore, their enemies and friends couldn't easily predict their courses of action. But when top leaders have recourse to "no rule" tactics to solve trivial problems that should have been tolerated, the central rulers prove themselves too narrow-minded to govern a nation of nearly eighty million people.

 

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