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Plight of Vietnamese Actor Garners U.S. Attention

October 04, 2002|ANITA M. BUSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The U.S. government has taken an interest in the plight of a Vietnamese actor accused of being "a national traitor" for co-starring in two Hollywood films.

Don Duong, the 45-year-old actor who lives in Ho Chi Minh City, came to the attention of the State Department this week after several Hollywood figures, including actors Mel Gibson, Patrick Swayze, Forest Whitaker and Harvey Keitel and filmmaker Randall Wallace began a letter-writing campaign to the U.S. ambassador in Hanoi and other officials in Vietnam and Washington.

Gibson appeared with Duong in Wallace's "We Were Soldiers," and Swayze and Whitaker co-starred with him in "Green Dragon."

State-owned newspapers in Vietnam have quoted numerous government officials as saying that Duong is a traitor and has "lost his honor" by appearing in two films that "distort the legitimate war history of our people and the humanity of the Vietnamese people."

The government has seized his passport and threatened him with jail and with a five-year ban on acting or leaving the country.

The U.S. Consulate General in Saigon has contacted Duong's family in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, and is scheduling a meeting with Duong to check his physical well-being, officials told members of the actor's family. Duong has three sisters in the U.S., and a sister and younger brother in Vietnam.

In Vietnam on Thursday, Duong's U.S. family was told, the actor was questioned for eight hours by PA-25, the government division in Ho Chi Minh City that regulates the country's cultural affairs, including literature, television, film and theater. At the end of the daylong meeting, Duong was asked to sign a statement professing guilt as a traitor, but he refused to do so. Duong, who has starred in more than 50 films, is expected to be interrogated again by PA-25.

The Vietnamese Consulate in San Francisco did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Duong starred with Keitel in the 1999 drama "Three Seasons," a film that was embraced by Vietnam's Ministry of Culture.

One of Duong's nephews, Tony Bui, who with his brother Timothy Linh Bui made "Green Dragon" and "Three Seasons," said the family in the U.S. is hoping for "a speedy resolution." According to Tony Bui: "They have branded him incorrectly. He loves his country, and the accusations are false. We hope he doesn't get prosecuted and gets his good name back."

Howard Lavick, acting dean of the school of film and television at Loyola Marymount University, joined the letter-writing campaign Thursday on behalf of Duong.

"I met Don in Sundance when he was there for 'Three Seasons.' ... Don is a very warm person. He's the type of person who should not be branded a national traitor. He's very proud of his Vietnamese heritage," Lavick said.

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