Documentaries, books and films you might like to read before travel to Vietnam

This newsletter will not go about the amazing scenery, it’s rich culture or breath taking beaches. I like to share a bit of info about documentaries, books and films you might like to read before or after coming here, to get some more depth about the sad history of this amazing people.
To lead a peasant army like Vietnam against superpowers like France, Japan and the US is an impossible task… there are no other in history like Ho Chi Minh… I consider Uncle Ho to be a genius… who did what ever it took to gain control of Vietnam…

Documentaries :

– Last Days in Vietnam :
Perhaps the most striking thing about “Last Days in Vietnam,” Rory Kennedy’s eye-opening documentary about the 1975 evacuation of the American Embassy in Saigon, is how calmly it surveys what was once among the angriest topics in American political life. The story is full of emotion and danger, heroism and treachery, but it is told in a mood of rueful retrospect rather than simmering partisan rage. There are old clips that have never been widely seen and pieces of information that may surprise many viewers.

– Uncle Ho and Uncle Sam (BBC 1998)
A tragedy, that was preventable. BBC History at its best.
1 of the finest documentaries I have seen on Vietnam. Edifying, but at the same time so poignant when you see how much the Vietnamese admired the Americans; how they wanted only to throw the French out (and who could blame them for that) and to have their country to themselves.
However BBC conveniently leaving the part out when, after the armistice with Japan, the British released all the Japanese POWs and staff, and put them back in charge of security of Vietnam.

– Bomb Harvest :
Bomb Harvest is an award-winning documentary that follows a bomb disposal team lead by Laith Stevens, a straight-talking, laconic Australian bomb disposal specialist. The Bomb Harvest film crew were granted an unprecedented 2 months on the ground with bomb disposal teams and live bombs, in areas of Laos which have never been filmed in before. Thoroughly entertaining despite its grisly subject matter…conveys its messages subtly and skillfully… Moving…

– The Vietnam War :
This 10-part, 18-hour documentary series from directors Ken Burns and Lynn Novick presents firsthand accounts of the Vietnam War from nearly 80 witnesses, including Americans who fought in the war and some who opposed it, as well as Vietnamese combatants and civilians from both sides.
The epic story of one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history as it has never before been told on film.

Books :

– Saigon, by Anthony Grey :
One of my all time favorites.
Saigon is a novel by Anthony Grey. Saigon follows the lives of three families, one American, one French, and the other Vietnamese, from the French colonial era in the early 1920s until the last helicopter left Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War.

– A Bright Shining Lie, by Neil Sheehan :
Thirty years on, Sheehan’s book hasn’t lost any of its astonishing power. At a September screening of the Burns-Novick documentary “The Vietnam War,” John Kerry told the audience he never understood the full extent of the anger against the war until he read “A Bright Shining Lie,” which showed him that all the way up the chain of command “people were just putting in gobbledygook information, and lives were being lost based on those lies and those distortions.” What makes the book particularly compelling is that it is both a broad look at the folly of the war and an intimate portrait of a chillingly Shakespearean character. Sheehan spent five years researching Vann’s life, interviewing seemingly anyone who ever met him, and nine more writing.

– The Quiet American, by Graham Greene :
This is an amazing story about the French colonial war in Vietnam and an incompetent CIA-wanna be agent seen through the eyes of a heroin-addicted British diplomat. Cynicism abounds. Great writing, gripping scenes. Excellent read. A true classic.

– Hue 1968, by Marc Bowden :
This compelling and highly readable narrative relies significantly on first-person accounts from American servicemen and Vietnamese soldiers, guerrillas and civilians. Bowden was able to report on the Vietnamese with the help of two translator-researchers and a Vietnamese colleague at the University of Delaware, where he is writer in residence. As Bowden notes in his comments at the end of “Hue 1968,” “for a journalist interested in history, the sweet spot is about 50 years,” because many witnesses are still alive and enough time has passed to permit historical perspective. In the case of Vietnam, a half-century may have been required for emotions to cool sufficiently for Americans to see Hue, and the Tet offensive of which it was a part, in dispassionate terms.

– The Girl In The Picture, by Phan Thi Kim Phuc :
Kim had taken a hit of napalm to her left side, on her upper body. It incinerated her ponytail, burnt her neck, almost all of her back and her left arm. She knew she should keep running, but intense fatigue and weariness overtook her, and she felt desperately thirsty. There were still a few hundred yards to go to safety.

– Kill Anything That Moves, by Nick Turse :
He delves into the secret history of U.S.-led atrocities. He has brought to his book an impressive trove of new research — archives explored and eyewitnesses interviewed in the United States and Vietnam. With superb narrative skill, he spotlights a troubling question: Why, with all the evidence collected by the military at the time of the war, were atrocities not prosecuted?

Films :

– Apocalypse Now :
My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam. It’s what it was really like. It was crazy. And the way we made it was very much like the way the Americans were in Vietnam. We were in the jungle. There were too many of us. We had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little, we went insane. —Francis Ford Coppola

– Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War Trilogy : Platoon, Born on The 4th of July and Heaven & Earth :
“Platoon” (1986) was based on Stone’s experiences as a kid discovering under fire that the reality of the war did not match the publicity campaign. It won Oscars for best picture and best director. “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989) was based on the life of Ron Kovic, who was paralyzed in Vietnam and found, on being shipped home, that America didn’t much care. It won Stone another Oscar for directing.
Now here is “Heaven and Earth” , told through the eyes of a woman. The role of Le Ly is played by a first-time actress, Hiep Thi Le, who was born in DaNang, came to America as a boat person at age 9, and now lives with her parents and six siblings in San Pablo, Calif. She got the role after her friends dragged her to an audition in San Jose.
The role of her American husband is played by Tommy Lee Jones, and there are supporting roles for Haing S. Ngor (the Oscar winner for “The Killing Fields”) as her father and Joan Chen (from “The Last Emperor”) as her mother.
The story begins in her family’s rice fields. Le Ly is born into a tradition-bound society that has not changed for many generations. But her family’s ancestral land is claimed by the Viet Cong and then by the South Vietnamese and their American advisers. For both sides, the attractive young girl is a prize of war, and rape is an acceptable weapon. She is swept up with a tide of refugees and carried to Saigon, where she works as a maid, a bar girl and even as a prostitute, before the gentle GI says he wants to marry her. If she had looked more closely, she might have realized he was not as gentle as he seemed.

– Journey From The Fall :
The plot of Journey takes two paths: one of Long, who gets imprisoned in a North Vietnamese reeducation camp, and the other of his family, who escape Vietnam by boat. This allows the audience to see two perspectives of displacement following the war. Long’s time in the reeducation camp is tainted by the harsh treatment he receives from the Communist camp leaders. Long and the rest of his fellow inmates are subject to physical punishment and getting shot if they escape. In addition to these conditions, Long faces psychological torture as he hears rumors of his family’s death, and loses the will to persevere. His wife Mai, son and grandmother meanwhile, escape via boat under threat of being captured. In the United States, they must deal with the loss of Long while struggling to adapt in their new hostland.

– Good Morning Vietnam :
Always fun to watch …
A well-calibrated blend of manic comedy and poignant drama, Good Morning, Vietnam offers a captivating look at a wide range of Robin Williams’ cinematic gifts.

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