The Phnom Pen goes to Vietnam

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Well…….kind of. Last weekend saw me out of energy, out of funds and having no interest in going out so I hit the extensive DVD library of compound mate Jeff. This is one seriously dizzying collection of DVDs and I decided to hone in on his Vietnamese collection for something a little different. Here is a review of the films;


Hearts of Darkness; The making of Apocalypse Now. This is a documentary of Francis Ford Coppola’s epic struggle to make what has become an iconic film. Shot in the Philippines over almost a year and costing $10m, it almost sent everyone involved stark raving mad. The film pitched this descent into madness as being a result of everybody really exploring their inner selves and getting into their parts however I rather feel it was too much heat, too much booze and too many drugs. Most of the actors were on something. Dennis Hopper was clearly out of his head on pot and god knows what else. Martin Sheen was drinking like a madman and one scene in the movie actually shows him absolutely shit faced and in a very strange mental state. He eventually had a heart attack. The documentary also features a 14 year old Laurence Fishbourne playing a groovy GI. All up, not a bad flick and quite interesting to see what went on behind the scenes.


The Deer Hunter; An absolute de Niro classic which I had actually seen a long time ago. Robert de Niro and Christopher Walken along with some unknowns play a group of friends who go to Vietnam. They get caught by the VC and, along with North Vietnamese prisoners, are forced to play Russian roulette in a bamboo hut perched on the edge of a river. This is a pretty wild old scene. A lot of guy’s brains end up splattered across the shed. Robert de Niro and Walken’s characters are the last men standing and thanks to some quick thinking by de Niro, they end up overpowering their captors, blowing them all away and escaping into the river and to freedom. The experience leaves Walken a mental mess and he never leaves Vietnam, instead delving into the shadowy world of illegal Russian roulette games and heroin addiction. De Niro goes back to Vietnam to save him and they again find themselves facing off over a pistol with one bullet in it. The results? Explosive.


The Quiet American; A remake of the original film based on Graham Greene’s classic novel, this book is set in 1954 Vietnam and features Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser in the lead roles. The story ends up being a dual love triangle/political finger pointer of sorts that implies the US involvement in dirty deeds during the Indochina war. This is a great film and I can highly recommend it – especially if you love South East Asia. The settings are all fantastic and make the Vietnam of the 50s look like a great place to be. Beautiful French Colonial Mansions ,(Caine’s apartment is just awesome), well lit avenues, stylish nightclubs and bars, impeccably dressed citizens and a real joy de vivre…apart from the odd grenade going off in the streets of course. Fraser turns in a great performance as a mild mannered American who is actually a CIA operative. He gets his just desserts though and Caine gets his girl back. Great Stuff.


The Vertical Ray of the Sun. A Vietnamese film with English subtitles, this film is set in current day Vietnam and is simply about 3 sisters and their relationships with the men in their lives – the husbands, the lovers and their brother. I absolutely LOVED this film. The story and dialogue is very simple but what won me over with this film is the cinematography. Every single frame in this movie is just stunning. Whether it is a simple scene set in the kitchen of the family café or a panoramic shot of the jade colored waters and limestone spires in Hoi An Bay, the attention to detail and visual feasts that are provided are just beautiful. The family all live (as far as I could tell) in the same old French Colonial house and the rooms are all decorated simply and tastefully with French antiques and Asian artefacts. Throw in generous splashes of colorful fabrics, fresh flowers, food and herbs and this film was just a joy to watch.


The smell of green papaya; By the same director as Vertical Ray, this film has all the same amazing attributes and some of the same actors-including the Director’s wife. The simple story of a servant girl in 1951 Hanoi who eventually grows up and falls in love with her master, the film is candy for the eyes. The two houses that the film is set in are just amazing and left me drooling. The first one is a timber house within a walled compound that has a glorious garden, an external kitchen and many open breeze ways and free-flowing areas. The second house, where the young girl becomes a women, is the house of an affluent Viet music composer. With it’s ornate mosaic tile floors, antiques, flowing silks, gardens that came in and out of the house, an array of coloured walls and wooden screens and a great bathroom, it really was a beautiful house.

So without going to Vietnam I went to Vietnam and today all I can think about is a steaming bowl of Veit pho soup and a super strong iced coffee.

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3 Responses to The Phnom Pen goes to Vietnam

  1. mrklatham says:

    Deer hunter had scenes filmed in bangkok including the metereogical building on sukumvit road which was the US embassy,we lived just behind it.
    The bar scenes were in the missisippi(please correct spelling if necessary) queen and featured a delightful thai lady called noi who lived in my mates apartment block.

  2. MukLoi says:

    “The Quiet Gentleman” You mean the Quiet American? Guess you haven’t read the book (or even checked wikipedia so you can pretend)…

  3. Mukloi,
    Sorry……..who can’t read ?

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