Friday, August 15, 2008

Hawaii = Vietnam?

I went to see the latest Batman movie when it opened. And one of the trailers before the movie started with scenes from Vietnam, with guys in uniform running and helicopters exploding and such. It felt very real.

So real, in fact, that I immediately burst into tears. I was so overwhelmed with emotion from the interviews I had recently conducted that these few seconds of trailer brought me to tears. It was as if these emotions rushed over me when the helicopter exploded. I felt every emotion I've been feeling during the interviews, and finally came face to face with them: empathy, sadness, fear, and confusion. In a matter of seconds, I was transformed. And all of these reactions were to a trailer in a theater, no where close to living through it in real life. All that I had felt during interviews in June, July and August came rushing to the surface I could no longer hold back the tears.

At least, until they cut to the scene where Ben Stiller lay on the ground and Robert Downey Jr. cries and the actor/director yells, "Cut!" Immediately I was transformed again, but this time I could not stop laughing. I had forgotten that Tropic Thunder was about to be released, despite making note of it prior to starting this film project.

The trailer for Tropic Thunder made me want to go see it. Not because it's a Ben Stiller movie or because it's a comedy, but because it is a movie within a movie pretending to be about the Vietnam War. I wanted to be immersed in the Vietnam War experience. I wanted to feel like I was in country, walking through the mud, sweating in the miserable heat, and unsure if I would live to see tomorrow. I wanted to know what it felt like, and what better way to visit a Communist country than via a theater in Raleigh watching a movie shot in Hawaii pretending to be Vietnam. (Sense the sarcasm about Hollywood's ways? If not, don't go see the movie, because it's full of painful, beautiful punches at Hollywood.)

The movie was good, for comedy's sake anyway. It has little to do with the Vietnam War, though. I had trouble with the plot, knowing what I now know about the real Vietnam and how they are mistreating people. But if you can control your thoughts enough to fall into that 'willing suspension of disbelief' and take it at face value, it's not a bad movie, and will certainly make most American audiences laugh a lot. I know I was laughing loudly, even as I walked out of the theater and got into my little foreign car.

What I find most interesting, is the buzz surrounding the movie. There were many activists boycotting the movie because of the use of the word 'retard' and others talking about the political incorrectness of Robert Downey Jr.'s depiction of a white Australian actor who undergoes skin tinting to play the role of a black man in the movie within the movie. What I like about the backlash is that it is a reaction to the movie. The film is powerful enough to ellicit a boycott, for crying out loud. Just imagine what other films could do.

My comments on the film are belated since I saw it mid-month, but it is relative to the project we are working on, and so I wanted to capture these thoughts. And as a filmmaker, I want to take note of how important it is to fully research and understand something (a people, a country, a war, a time period) in order to portray it for others.

It is easy to blindly accept the 'truth' portrayed, and I hope that we can inspire people to seek their own truths. Yes, we have points we want to proove, but don't take these opinions as gospel. Do research, and keep seeking the truth. One film cannot give summize everything about the Montagnard people. Ce n'est pas possible.

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