On Screen #1 – Vietnam

In the 1997 movie ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, James Bond is seen cruising around a series of limestone rock limestone karsts dramatically jutting out of the sea on the 91 minute mark. We’re led to believe its Halong Bay, Vietnam, and though it looks remarkably like

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that area in the north-east of the country it is actually Krabbi in Phuket (Thailand) which we see. Lets rewind further back to the most famous films about Vietnam; ’Apocalypse Now‘ (1979) and ‘Platoon‘ (1986) which also weren’t made in the country they were obviously set in. Luzon in the Philippines filled in on both occasions.

Good Morning, Vietnam‘ (1987) is a film consisting of more than just a catchphrase! I watched this on YouTube recently (You can see it here) and though I’m not the greatest fan of the rubber-faced funnyman Robin Williams, this is a good movie with some spectacular Vietnamese scenery…….or is it? Well, no actually as this one was filmed in Thalang in Phuket province, Thailand. In fact the Thai Parliament Houses are clearly visible on the horizon in an opening shot of a main road.

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One film which was actually filmed in Vietnam was the 1992 drama romance ‘L’Amant‘ (UK title: ‘The Lover‘) which features Ho Chi Minh City in parts. A student recommended this fairly dark film just before I went on my trip to Vietnam last month and I also managed to catch this one on YouTube (You can see it here)

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Director Jean Jacques Annaud first flew to Ho Chi Minh City in 1989 to view the original novel’s setting and was at first not happy with the state of the country but after looking at other places to film in South-East Asia he decided that only Ho Chi Minh City could truly represent the “tired museum.” It was the first Western film to be shot in ‘nam since the reunification of the country in 1975. The government provided the crew with a helicopter for use during filming but did demand that all production storyboards be checked by officials before being filmed. All of the film’s sexual scenes had to be shot in Paris as they could not be filmed on location. The film cost $30m to produce due to the importation costs of shooting in Vietnam and it took 135 days to complete filming.

My introduction to Vietnam though came from the 1980′s TV series ‘The A-Team‘ which throughout its five season run featured countless references to Vietnam with the most important one being the “crime they didn’t commit.” Colonel Morrison gave orders for the team to rob the Bank of Hanoi of $1m on the 27th of January, 1971. The mission was supposed to help bring the war to an end by cutting off the money supply to the Viet Cong but on their return to HQ the team discovered it had burned to the ground, and that Morrison was murdered by the Viet Cong. All the evidence that they were acting under orders vanished in the fire. This site has a fascinating rundown of all the ‘nam references from the 98 episodes.

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As I mentioned in an A-Team TV series article I wrote a few years ago the season four finale (Episode 23) of this cartoon-violence show was very unique in that it actually included a death and was notable for some truly serious dramatic moments with the A-Team members privately reminiscing on their Vietnam war experiences. This was the only episode ‘set’ in Vietnam but I have no doubt that it, like just about every other episode, was all filmed at Universal Studios in California. Stick a few conical hats on some Asian-American actors and you’ve got something resembling Vietnam…..seems to have often been the attitude when the country is portrayed on screen. In this episode titled ‘The Sound Of Thunder‘ major antagonist General Fulbright wants the team to find and free a group of Vietnam POWs, that supposedly includes the only officer that can clear their names. During the job Fulbright finds out that Murdock is part of the A-Team, but during their narrow escape under fire Fulbright is killed by Vietnamese troops before telling anyone else. The episode borrows heavily from ‘Apocalypse Now‘ in terms of the team lying under a fan with its sound turning into the ‘nam chopper blade whirring sound.

One more memorable TV show I recall watching which was set in Vietnam was a BBC ‘Top Gear‘ special a few years back and this time the only think faked was the scripts and plot of the three presenters as they fell into each situation. The three presenters had $1000 each to spend on a vehicle to get from Ho Chi Minh City to Halong City in 8 days. Naturally, all they could get for that kind of money were some cheap motorbikes and then hilarity and adolescent humour ensues as they made their journey. Now, I’m no car fan and don’t watch this show usually but am always keen to see the special shows.

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Other tv show’s to have featured Vietnam are ‘Man Vs Wild with Bear Grylls‘ (Season 4 Episode 3) where the chief scout himself demonstrates what it was like for soldiers who had to survive in the jungles of Vietnam, during the Vietnam War.

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It’s thanks to Anthony Bourdain’s TV series’ ‘No Reservations‘ that I have developed an interest in international cuisine over the last year or so. He’s a big fan of Vietnam and did three shows (S01E04, S05E10, S06E10) there in his seven year run for the Travel Channel.

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I’m sure there have been plenty of other TV programmes and movies set or made in this beautiful country but this was just a sample and its probably Bourdain’s  shows which gave me the most realistic insight into the local culture and cuisine.

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