Which Mirror Is ‘Truer’?

Portrayal of the Vietnam War in Apocalypse Now and Cánh Đồng Hoang

in Journal of American-East Asian Relations
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This essay examines the portrayal of the Vietnam War in one Vietnamese war film—Cánh Đồng Hoang (Wild Rice Field, also known as the Abandoned Field) and one American war film—Apocalypse Now. Released the same year (1979), both received acclaim from film viewers and critics, with the former winning the Golden Prize of the Moscow International Film Festival and the latter two Oscars. This study examines the starkly different way each cinematic product depicts the enemy and nationalism, provides an explanation of the contrast, and assesses how both films sustain, reinforce, and challenge the hegemonic and ideological structure of the two societies during that time. Apocalypse Now evokes sympathy for both u.s. soldiers and the Vietnamese, but its portrayal of these Asian people as faceless and inferior illustrates a culturally imperial approach toward a Third World people. Cánh Đồng Hoang conveys a romanticized, conventional version of the war where the “us” triumphs over the “them” in the defense of the nation. This essay seeks not to show that one film is better, but rather how a large gap exists in American and Vietnamese understanding of one another. Only bridging that gap will promote a better appreciation of each side’s political, social, and cultural background and perspectives.

References

AndereggMichael A. Inventing Vietnam: The War in Film and Television. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991.

BradleyMark. Imagining Vietnam and America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919–1950. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

———. “Remembering and Forgetting War in the Contemporary Vietnamese Cinema.” In The Country of Memory: Remaking the Past in Late Socialist Vietnam, edited by Hue-Tam Ho Tai. Berkeley: University of California Press Berkeley, 2001.

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DittmarLinda, and MichaudGene, eds. From Hanoi to Hollywood: The Vietnam War in American Film. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990.

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SuidLawrence. ““Apocalypse Now”: Francis Ford Coppola Stages His Own Vietnam War.Cineasteiii, no. 3 (1977): 3233.

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4

James Wilson, Vietnam in Prose and Film (Jefferson, n.c: McFarland, 1982), 81–82.

5

Leo Cawley, “The War About the War: Vietnam Films and American Myth,” in From Hanoi to Hollywood: The Vietnam War in American Film, ed. Linda Dittmar and Gene Michaud (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990), 72.

6

Brian J. Woodman, “A Hollywood War of Wills: Cinematic Representation of Vietnamese Super-Soldiers and America’s Defeat in the War,” Journal of Film and Video 55, no. 2/3 (2003): 44.

7

Judy Lee Kinney, “Gardens of Stone Platoon and Hamburger Hill Ritual and Remembrance,” in Inventing Vietnam: The War in Film and Television, ed. Michael A. Anderegg (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991), 164.

9

Mark Bradley, “Remembering and Forgetting War in the Contemporary Vietnamese Cinema,” in The Country of Memory: Remaking the Past in Late Socialist Vietnam, ed. Hue-Tam Ho Tai (Berkeley: University of California Press Berkeley, 2001). To date, the author only knows of one doctoral student starting to shape her dissertation topic on contemporary Vietnam films, but not focusing solely on the representation of the war.

10

Laurel Westrup, “Toward a New Canon: The Vietnam Conflict through Vietnamese Lenses,” Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies 36, no. 2 (2006).

15

Palmer Hall, “The Helicopter and the Punji Stick: Central Symbol of the Vietnam War,” in America Rediscovered: Critical Essays on Literature and Film of the Vietnam War, ed. Owen Gilman and Lorrie Smith (New York: Garland, 1990). Philip Chinnery makes a similar point in a more elaborated work. Philip D. Chinnery, Vietnam: The Helicopter War (Annapolis, md: Naval Institute Press, 1991).

20

Westrup, “Toward a New Canon: The Vietnam Conflict through Vietnamese Lenses,” 48.

23

Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), 6.

24

 See Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media (London; New York: Routledge, 1994).

25

Said, Orientalism 4.

26

Heather Brookes, “Suit, Tie and a Touch of Juju - the Ideological Construction of Africa: A Critical Discourse Analysis of News on Africa in the British Press,” Discourse & Society 6, no. 4 (1995): 488–89.

30

Stuart Hall, “Culture, the Media and the “Ideological Effect”,” in Mass Communication and Society, ed. James Curran, Michael Gurevitch, and Janet Wollacott (London: Edward Arnold, 1977), 343.

31

Cawley, “The War About the War: Vietnam Films and American Myth,” 78–79.

35

Kranz, “The Lies Aren’t Over,” 18.

37

Kranz, “The Lies Aren’t Over,” 18.

38

Nguyễn, ““Apocalypse Now” Viewed by a Vietnamese,” 42.

39

Lawrence Suid, ““Apocalypse Now”: Francis Ford Coppola Stages His Own Vietnam War,” Cineasteiii, no. 3 (1977).

40

Kranz, “The Lies Aren’t Over,” 19.

44

Westrup, “Toward a New Canon: The Vietnam Conflict through Vietnamese Lenses,” 47.

46

William Sloane Coffin, Once to Every Man: A Memoir (New York: Atheneum, 1977), 322.

50

Michael A. Anderegg, Inventing Vietnam: The War in Film and Television (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991), 1.

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