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Viet Refugees Give 'Platoon' Good Reviews

January 25, 1987|HERMAN WONG

To many in the Vietnamese refugee community, the best thing that can be said for "Platoon" is that this latest Hollywood film on the Vietnam conflict isn't just another "Rambo."

Until now, argue these Vietnamese, Hollywood depictions had ranged from comic-book derring-do ("The Green Berets") to epic outlandishness ("Apocalypse Now").

"Because these (earlier) films are so unreal, the situations so preposterous, we have never taken them seriously," said Long Le, an education specialist in Orange County's 90,000-member Vietnamese community, which is considered the largest Asian refugee concentration in the United States.

"I didn't want to see it at first. I didn't think I could see another movie about the war," said Huy Nguyen, a computer sciences major at UC Irvine. "But I found that movie very real. It is not make-believe. It is not a lot of Stallone or Chuck Norris."

Le, Nguyen and others in the community maintain that "Platoon," more than the earlier movies, provides some measure of dramatic accuracy about the war. None of them felt any sense of racism in the depiction.

And unlike the Sylvester Stallone "Rambo," these leaders say, writer-director Oliver Stone's Vietnam drama is a far cry from escapist action fare.

("Rambo--First Blood Part II," the 1985 movie about Rambo as a one-man army in Vietnam, is still popular among younger Vietnamese immigrants. The movie is a big seller in the videocassette rental shops of Orange County's "Little Saigon" sector--right up there with the kung-fu movies from Hong Kong.)

Instead, "Platoon" offers graphic scenes of carnage, terror and despair that haunt this one small group of American soldiers in the Vietnam of 1967-68. Midway is the sequence that brings this movie closest to the Vietnamese audience--the platoon's My Lai-like rampage of execution, rape and torching in a village suspected of being a communist supply enclave.

Obviously, "Platoon" isn't a film that Vietnamese can approach without a sense of enormous dread.

Lan Thuong Nguyen, a former Cerritos College student, put it this way: "We know My Lai wasn't the only time. We know this happened many times. It is important that this movie showed the good Americans, too, the ones who tried to stop the others, the ones who thought of the village people as humans."

It is "Platoon's" variations on this "good American/bad American" theme that most impresses these refugee viewers.

"This movie does not make this struggle simplistic. It tells us much about the American behavior," said Tony Lam, a business leader in Orange County's "Little Saigon" sector. "We know war is not a time of normal situations. This movie reflects the fears of the Americans there--how it (rampage) was created out of the battlefield."

While "Platoon's" village sequence is relatively brief, to the Vietnamese it is the film's emotional crux--one of overwhelming poignancy.

Explained refugee Mai Cong, a mental health aide with the Orange County Health Care Agency: "Many of us did not live in those (village) areas. But we know people who lived through similar situations." Cong lived in Saigon and fled in 1975 when the capital fell.

"It is not easy for us to watch those scenes. I cried when I saw them," she recalled. "I have clients who still have nightmares, who remember hiding in the shelters and under dead bodies." She said they hid from both Americans soldiers and the Viet Cong.

For all its merits, Vietnamese critics say, "Platoon," like the earlier Hollywood works, reduces the Vietnamese characters to a purely subordinate status.

"It is his (writer-director Stone's) personal odyssey in Vietnam. It is his way of making these soldiers a symbol of the civil dissension in America," said Yen Do, editor of Orange County's Nguoi Viet Daily News. "He has restaged America's moral dispute on the small scale. He has raised the same issues--whether to stay in Vietnam, when you can kill and when it is legal or not legal."

"But his film is no more about Vietnam and its people than was 'Deer Hunter' or any of the others," he noted. "This is to be expected. They were made by Americans, for Americans."

And, editor Do suggests, a "full, realistic" Hollywood account of the Vietnamese is still highly unlikely--given the lack of commercial appeal of such a project and the increasing antagonisms toward the growing Asian immigrant populations.

"It is still too soon for such a film. Maybe it will take another 10 years, probably much more," said Do, who, like most of the Vietnamese in this country, fled South Vietnam after the 1975 collapse of the Saigon government.

"But yes, there is now 'Platoon,' " he added. "Yes, it is better than 'Rambo.' We can be glad for that, can't we?"

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