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.

Review: Films Set In Japan – ‘The Hunted’ (1995)

Christopher Lambert’s character Paul Racine is a New Yorker who gets lucky with a mysterious oriental lady whilst on a business trip to Nagoya. After their night of passion he basically finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time having returned to her apartment just in time to see her decapitated for a transgression by the ninja assassin Kinjo whose face must never be seen by anyone. Incredibly Racine somehow survives the ninjas which really does transcend the bounds of realism given how easily they manage to butcher and savage far stronger opponents lying in their wake further down the line.

So Racine is in hospital and even watches my favourite ever TV programme The A-Teamfor a brief moment. He sure could have done with their help as he finds himself a man marked for death having seen the legendary Kinjo’s face and is interviewed by a rival ninja clan who protect and later teach him, by way of an older guy, some basic moves. There’s quite a few references to the Japanese code of honour and with Racine the witness in a murder he becomes the hunted (ah so thats how they got the title!) and how far this code goes is a recurring theme.

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A train journey turns out to be one of the films high points as a slew of ruthless and shockingly violent carnage begins. Unlike most other films where there is the constant clanging sounds of swords in fights that go on for all eternity these ones involve a quick stab here and a slash there. It’s brutal and gruesome and is moderately successful in blending the old samurai mystique with modern Japanese society.

It’s a movie which just about scrapes over the halfway mark in the ratings due to its simplicity, pace and the pure fact that when I watched this I may have just been in the right mood for some pointless and unnecessary blood and gut violence.

Tokyo Fox Rating 6/10

TF Film Review: The A-Team (2010)

So having worked my way through the A-Team TV series DVD boxsets in the first half of this year I had become overly familiar with the original characters. With that in mind my expectations for the movie were quite low! They probably didn’t need to be to be fair as Hannibal was played by the excellent (and suitably greyed-up) Liam Neeson who has a proven acting pedigree and he didn’t really diappoint although he wasn’t quite as smug as George Peppard in the TV series. In fact Bradeley Coopers Face-man was more smug which I didn’t really take to. Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson did a better job than I expected as BA Baracus but lacked some of the charisma of Mr T in the TV series and to be fair that was always going to be the most difficult character to replicate. I didn’t really take to Sharlto Copley’s portrayal of Murdock too much. Mr T. may have been the star of the A-Team but in my mind it was Dwight Schultz as Murdock who was the real star delivering some great comedic performances. He was the one that most of my friends and I always wanted to be in the playground recreations in the 1980’s after the previous weekends Saturday evening viewing of the show.
Some critics have attacked the plot of the film but what were they expecting?! The A-Team is all about action and this film certainly delivers on that front with the best seeing the team parachuted out of an aeroplane in a tank but anyone who saw the trailer knew this was coming which is kind of a shame as it ruins it a bit but I guess they have to include the best bits in these trailers to entice viewers.
I liked how the film told the back-story of how they got together and were convicted of a crime they didn’t commit. The use of protagonist names like Lynch and Morrisson are for the fans and the jail breaks are pretty inventive with the best involving revolving around some 3D action. I would have liked to see someone hire the A-Team as they used to in the TV series and though the film certainly won’t set the world alight it overall did the job that it’s supposed to do which is deliver high-speed thrilling action without much regard for minor things like plot and storyline! Room has certainly been left for a sequel.

The A-Team – TV Series

This American action/adventure TV series was probably my favourite as a child and 24 years after it was axed I have to say that I still love it. While a lot of TV shows from one’s childhood are often not as good as you remember I’m happy to say that that is not true (in my opinion) for this programme. This was essential teatime viewing in the 1980’s and was known for it’s simple stories with the bad guys being easy to spot as our four Robin Hood-type heroes beat them using a range of weaponry and explosives that never killed anyone or even did them too much injury. The plots were written to be easily understandable to the typical child-like brain which is probably why it still appeals!
With knowledge that an A-Team movie was on the way I bought (or got bought) the complete five season A-Team box sets when I was back in England last Christmas and spent the first half of this year working my way through all 98 episodes.
 
Of course one of the best things about the A-Team was the theme tune including the military style narrative introduction which I never grow tired of hearing. The iconic black van played a huge role in the status of the series and is still something I’d love to see with my own eyes. I had hoped to see it when I went to Universal Studio’s in Hollywood in 2002 as I’d heard it was rusting away on the backlot but sadly it was nowhere to be seen. The ‘Cars of the Stars’ Museum in Keswick in the north of England may be the solution as I think that is home to one of the GMC van’s used throughout the five seasons.
Needless to say that the main reason for its success were the four main characters; Colonel John Hannibal SmithLieutenant Templeton Face-man PeckCaptain Howling Mad Murdock and Sergeant BA Baracus played by the main star of the show Mr T. The fact that he was the star supposedly upset George Peppard who was the real proper Hollywood actor which lead to a lot of tension on the set as was explored in detail in the Channel 4 show ‘Bring Back The A-Team’ show a few years ago.
 
Here are some of the formulaic parts of an episode:
* Cars flying through the air and turning upside down having collided with some obstacle such as a car.
* B.A. Baracus throwing somone over his head.
* One of the A-Team diving on top of somone from above.
* Weaponry and vehicles being formed out of some leftover cr*p in a warehouse which they got locked in.
* The team escaping in a car and driving through a gate or barrier as a couple of guys dived out of the way.
* No-one ever really getting hurt. After a huge car-crash the cameras would always later cut-back to the enemy dusting themselves down or coming out of the wreckage unhurt.
* One of the team hurling a grenade in the direction of the enemy who then dived for survival.
* Being caught by Colonel Lynch, Colonel Decker or General Fullbright many times but always escaping.
* Murdock having to escape from his mental ward in may episodes.
* The catchphrases: “I love it when a plan come’s together”, “Hannibal’s on the jazz”, “I pity the fool” and “I ain’t getting on no plane!”.
* B.A. being drugged to get him on a plane.
* Murdock & B.A. nearly coming to blows in most episodes.
* Face scamming a vehicle or other object with relative ease.
* Hannibal seemingly chain-smoking his cigar’s.
* Hannibal saying “You’ve just hired the A-Team” whilst usually in disguise having lead the potential client through a series of tests to see if they were legitimate.
The series ran for five seasons with the first four being pretty much of the same formula. Having just watched all of them this year I can see why the ratings did fall as the fourth season kicked in. The already-simple plots became ever more lame or increasingly stupid with ridiculous guest appearances from the likes of Boy George and Hulk Hogan. However, the season four finale did include a death and was notable for some truly serious dramatic moments with the A-Team members privately reminiscing on their Vietnam war experiences
The final season’s changes in style were not popular with a fifth member of the team added and having been captured they were now working for a guy in a style similar to the Mission Impossible TV series. The show was axed mid-way through this season and brought the curtain down on one of the most man-driven shows and its taken a while but only now has an A-Team movie been made but will it be any good?