by Viet Thanh Nguyen (live review via Facebook posts and tweets)
I watched Da 5 Bloods so you wouldn’t have to. I can’t recommend it.
Here we go with my live tweeting of Spike Lee’s #Da5Bloods. I’m an admirer of many of Lee’s movies. I’m also someone who has seen almost all Hollywood movies about the Vietnam War. It’s an exercise I recommend to no one.
Can’t go wrong starting with Muhammad Ali and “No Viet Cong ever called me n_____.” Still one of the greatest athletes ever, and with wit and conscience.
Angela Davis too, connecting war overseas to racism domestically. Yes, Jackson State as well as Kent State massacres. People don’t know about Jackson State because Black students were killed.
“Classic” images of Vietnamese death–Thich Quang Duc, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan shooting a VC in the head, the burning girl–yes, classic, but that’s all the Vietnamese are known for, being victims.
It’s a powerful opening montage, I can’t even keep up with the images, basically powerful at evoking Black experience at home and in Vietnam, but yes, the Vietnamese are Ho Chi Minh and victims.
oh shit, APOCALYPSE NOW THE NIGHTCLUB. I spent many a wasted night there. Once the cops raided it and went into the upstairs office, came out with a suitcase, and then the club could reopen.
I’m glad the movie focuses on Black experiences, and on Black returning soldiers. I didn’t see very many Black Africans or African Americans in Vietnam during my many months there.
Beggar in Apocalypse Now–I don’t think that would happen. He wouldn’t be let in. But for sure, many beggars on the streets, maimed. Maybe less now as the down tourist enclave has been swept clean to make it more tourist friendly.
the infamous Black MAGA supporter. Why not? 8% of Black people support the Trumpeter.
JOHNNY TRI NGUYEN just walked in. He’s super hot but look what they did to him here. Fuck. Watch him in his brother Charlie Nguyen’s THE REBEL. HE FUCKING KICKS FRENCH ASS. Now he’s the tour guide.
Apocalypse Now reference with helicopter. Now the Black actors play themselves as their young selves at war, interesting choice. Reminds me of Sam Fuller’s movie about the Korean War where the Chinese communists talk in Bronx accents.
Faceless NVA or VC being killed. Obligatory. Woman firing the rocket launcher gestures at the GIs worst fear–a woman who they didn’t rape or pay for sex but who would cut their balls off. See Full Metal Jacket.
Chadwick Boseman shooting the grenade launcher may reference the scene in Apocalypse Now where the Black GI fires his grenade launcher across the river into the darkness, which probably evokes Heart of Darkness where the gunship fires blindly into the jungle.
Obligatory Vietnamese talking incomprehensibly. Boseman wears the patch of the Big Red One division. Samuel Fuller also made a memorable movie about the Big Red One in World War II, starring Mark Hamill and Lee Marvin.
Downtown Saigon, lots of capitalism, that is correct. I can’t get over Johnny doing the tour guide. There is a gesture to Johnny’s father’s heroism as a southern soldier, then imprisonment in re-education. Southern Vietnamese people will tell you that the southern soldiers
Don’t get the credit they deserve. 240,000 Southern dead. 58,000 American dead. Popular perception by Americans is that the southern soldiers couldn’t fight. That is sometimes true (the army was corrupted by American patronization) but also oftentimes false (the southern soldiers fought some hard battles.
Some jokes about bad American movies like Rambo and Missing in Action. Well deserved. Those movies are horrible on rewatching (Rambo) and bad the first time around (MIA).
Michon is introduced, mixed race, Black heritage.
Vietnamese people are basically racist, and they treated mixed race children badly during and after the war. But white Amerasians were treated better than Black Amerasians.
Until Congress passed the Amerasian Homecoming Act, which allowed Amerasians to come to the USA. Then all the Vietnamese families that had disavowed these Amerasians claimed them back. Then they often ditched the children once they got to the USA.
I know Spike’s intentions are good here talking about race, but the acting isn’t that great and the scene is pretty didactic. Which is not unusual for Spike but it works better in other movies.
Oh my, Jean Reno. White linen French colonial. But good to see Delroy Lindo telling off the Frenchman. Usually African Americans and French are only put together to show how much Black intellectuals loved Paris.
Crispus Attucks! Yes, Black people have been dying for the USA as slaves or patriots since the beginning. So how critical will Spike get about Black soldiers fighting for American imperialism?
Cheers! If I was really Vietnamese, this would be Hennessy or Rémy Martin, preferably XO.
“I just hope I don’t have to use it,” Otis says about the gun. Come on! You know that gun is going to go off.
Now “Ride of the Valkyries” (from Apocalypse Now) as the guys sail off down the river (as in AN).
Are those Nikes????
Vietnam is basically the new little China, using Chinese strategy to use cheap domestic labor to get a toehold in the world market. Although now Cambodia and Bangladesh are probably cheaper for labor than Vietnam. Vietnam wants to be S Korea or Singapore or Taiwan.
Red flag with the yellow star in the background–statement about what government is in charge now. The communist government. Wave that flag in Little Saigon, California, and you might get shot, or least maced and protested.
Black soldiers used to fight in combat at disproportionate rates. Yes, true for Latinos, Puerto Ricans, Chamorro, Samoans, too. Imperial grunts. Oppressed and colonized at home, sent to die overseas.
Vietnamese soldiers getting killed. Fuck. It’s a movie but it still hurts. That’s our place in the American imagination. Tour guides. Sidekicks. “Whores” and lovers. Bastard kids. The enemy getting wiped out facelessly. Does it matter if Black guys are doing it?
Hanoi Hannah, played by Veronica Ngo, Ngo Thanh Van, Vietnamese movie star. She had a brief bit in that Star Wars movie as Rose Tico’s sister. Talking about MLK. This stuff really did happen as part of communist propaganda to American soldiers.
On the one hand, American GIs laughed it off. On the other hand, Black GIs rose up in insurrection after the MLK assassination. One of the biggest uprisings was in Long Binh Jail (LBJ). Black soldiers were criminalized in the US army like they were in the rest of America.
Bloods–see Wallace Terry’s oral history of that title about Black soldiers in Vietnam. Powerful. Black soldiers had diverse viewpoints about what they went through, where they were going. Colin Powell was there, so was Tiger Woods’ dad, who named Tiger after a southern Vietnamese officer so fierce his nickname was Tiger.
The floating market. Foreigners, Vietnam is a fun place to visit. No one but the government and the wartime generation (a minority) talks about the war. People want to make money, have a good time. No one bothers Americans and French except for their money.
I have never seen anyone trying to push a chicken onto a foreigner.
“You killed my father and mother!” — says the chicken seller. Again, this may happen, but if so, it’s extremely rare. Vietnamese people care more about foreigners’ money than revenge. Once I went to a communist cemetery with an older white man. A family was having a memorial.
They thought my friend was a veteran. They called him over and offered him a drink as a reconciliation, this family mourning their dead communist veteran. That’s much more the reality.
And a Black man saying gook is still a man saying Gook.
Then Delroy Lindo argues that Black men calling each other N____ is the same as a Black man saying Gook. Uh, no. Black people can call each other that, that’s their right. We don’t get to call Black people that. And they don’t get to call us Gook.
French woman named Hedy, like Hedy Lamarr! I get it, 90% of Americans probably don’t know who Hedy is. David after David Ruffin of the Temptations, apparently the quartet is named after them.
The French section that Coppola cut out of the original Apocalypse Now was not very good, this French stuff either, although I get Spike’s point about French colonialism (rubber, rice, etc), and here, mines and demining.
Yes, the French exploited and enslaved the Vietnamese hard enough for the Viet Minh, Viet Cong, and Ho Chi Minh to have reason to kick them out (now all forgotten behind the glamour of French colonialism and the movie Indochine).
The French are lucky that unlike the Americans they don’t have lots of documentary images, live TV, and Hollywood to record their atrocities. Now everyone’s forgotten how horrible the French really were.
Mines, though–that’s American. the USA dropped more bombs on Indochina than on all of World War II. Cambodia and parts of Vietnam are the most heavily mined in the world. White people have gone to Vietnam to help in demining, for sure.
But the Vietnamese do a lot of the grunt work. I once had the privilege to see a Vietnamese demining squad at work in Quang Tri. Men and women sitting in the sun for hours, painstaking digging through the dirt.
What is true is that a lot of foreigners go to Vietnam, see the sights, enjoy the cheap beer, exploit the strong dollar, make fun of the locals, hang out with prostitutes in bars that cater to foreigners. So the Bloods’ experience isn’t atypical.
They did say Cám õn pretty close to the real thing!
I give them credit, I would never go hiking through the Vietnamese forest.
So is Tien is like Yoko Ono to this quartet? breaking up the band?
They found that gold pretty easily.
I mean, just from the heist movie perspective, not much tension here in terms of getting to the gold. Imagine them trying to find the remains of missing soldiers. That’s hard to do. Also, 2000 US MIA, 300,000 North Vietnamese MIA. No figures on South Vietnamese MIA.
The musical soundtrack is terrible, or am I missing something?
Honestly, the opening montage, like classic Spike Lee montages, has been the best part of the movie, as problematic as it was for Vietnamese representation.
Self-interest versus reparations. The basic American dilemma about racism and capitalism.
They found Norman’s remains. Two possibilities: if it was this easy to find his bones, the US MIA office in Vietnam would have found them years ago. The US spends a lot of money trying to recover 2000 remains. OR: Norm is a Black man and the US MIA office doesn’t give a fuck.
You saw that one coming.
Hard to watch.
It might be all plot spoilers from here on
Here would have been a good place to put some Vietnamese characters here as dminers versus giving these white folks more speaking roles.
Let me just point out that something like 50,000 Vietnamese people have been killed by unexploded American ordnance in the postwar years. I don’t know the numbers for Cambodians or Laotians, but let’s guess they’re bad. Then there are all the maimed people missing limbs. But here
It’s an American who gets killed by a mine. Even if it’s a Black American. The focus is taken off the numerical reality of who paid the biggest price for America’s use of these things.
The American Vietnam War Movie genre, as the critic Renny Christopher points out, posits the war as a civil war in the American soul. The Vietnamese are just bystanders.
Now it looks like this movie is about Black versus White, with Vietnamese on the margins again.
This is weird with the white lady taking a piss and carrying on a flirtation.
It’s not good writing
Oh boy, bad Vietnamese guys with AKs.
“Do you know Calley, brother?” My Lai. Come on.
A Vietnamese gangster is not going around quoting My Lai.
And Vietnamese gangsters would have just killed all these people immediately and taken the gold.
Vietnamese gangsters are scary AF.
My Lai is just weird….yes, important to bring up this history BUT it just puts Vietnamese into the role of victims, their only place in a guilty American conscience. We’re victims, not agents.
And when we ARE agents, like these gangsters? It’s Deer Hunter time, kill the gooks.
I don’t care how badass Americans think they are…you run into a Vietnamese gangster, they don’t travel in small groups, they don’t give you time to get your gun, they will gang up on your ass and hurt you bad. That’s agency.
If I wasn’t live tweeting this movie in my obligatory role as a Professional Vietnamese, I would have stopped watching by now.
Delroy Lindo is good, and there might have been a good movie focused just on him returning to Vietnam, but this isn’t it. This movie is now a mess.
Good Delroy Lindo monologue to the camera but you have to realize that it all takes place, that Black Power salute and monologue, against the backdrop of the silent/menacing/helpful Vietnamese and the steamy Vietnamese jungle. Still an American movie.
Honestly, if a snake dropped on me (which is why I wouldn’t go into the jungle) and I had an automatic rifle, I’d shoot like crazy, too
What is with this white French lady??????
They’re spending more time talking about Norman, dead decades, than their friend who just got eviscerated
OMG….PLOT SPOILER don’t read the next tweet
Vietnamese woman is the big threat (see earlier tweet) and Delroy Lindo kills Norman (Chadwick Boseman) in friendly fire ARE TWO OF THE MOST BASIC TROPES in American war movies of Vietnam. Katherine Kinney has a book called FRIENDLY FIRE. Americans would rather talk about killing each other than admit that the Vietnamese were killing them. Then they get to stew in their guilt and make it an American-centric war.
As for the Vietnamese woman killer, see Susan Jeffords’ REMASCULINIZATION OF AMERICA, where she talks about the Vietnam War movie of the 1970s to 1980s as about rebuilding American masculinity after the feminism of the 1970s and 1980s. Women are the threat–white women at home, Vietnamese women in Vietnam. She didn’t have a lot to say about Black men, but here they are, fitting in the same old tropes.
Delroy Lindo acknowledges that it was an immoral war, he and the gangster are bonded by their casualties. That’s good, except DL is a full-blown character, the gangster is a caricature.
PLOT SPOILER DON’T READ NEXT TWEET
Delroy Lindo getting killed by the gangsters is good. It reminds me of Clint Eastwood in GRAN TORINO, killed by the Hmong gangsters at the end. A sacrifice. Not quite a self-sacrifice here, but a payment of guilt. And the center is still on the American, white or Black.
Basically, for American movies of the Vietnam War, it doesn’t matter whether the American is the hero or antihero as long as the American is the center. Better to be villain or antihero than virtuous extra (that’s for the Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, and Hmong).
The French is the biggest bad guy. Reminds me of Korean war movies about Vietnam. The Koreans admit they did some bad stuff, but blame it all on the Americans making them do it.
At least Johnny lived.
War Remnants Museum in Delroy’s monologue. A basic stop in the tourist route through Vietnam. I’ve read the visitors’ logs. Half the Americans feel guilty at seeing pictures of American atrocities. Half of Americans call it propaganda. Funny, they never realized that all they know about the war in Vietnam is American propaganda. It’s a shock for t hem to see A (not all) Vietnamese Point of View.
Ok, so the money goes to Black Lives Matter and demining, you can’t argue with that, the two sides of what American Power has wrought
Otis reuniting with his Ameraisan daughter, also good. The sad truth is that most American soldiers abandoned their kids or never knew they had them or rejected them if the kids found them.
Ending with MLK, also good. See his speech “Beyond Vietnam,” the most important Black text of the war, very radical. It’s American propaganda that Americans all know “I Have a Dream,” endlessly appropriated for liberal and conservative purposes, but not “Beyond Vietnam”
Which totally condemns American racism, capitalism, imperialism and the war machine. Most of MLK’s Black Civil Rights colleagues didn’t want him to give this speech. They wanted to separate the domestic from the foreign, and MLK saw he couldn’t do that.
Assassinated. He’s still too radical for America.
To sum up: the movie had flashes of great Spike Lee, but very, very few. The opening montage. The final clipof MLK Jr. Delroy Lindo was powerful, a Black Ahab. He deserved a better movie. Mostly the movie was a mess. And in the end, despite the needed focus on Black experiences, it was still mostly an American movie that reiterated many, many American war movie tropes about Vietnam, with the Vietnamese in the margins, as always. Black subjectivity at the center, yes, but still American subjectivity.
If you can’t disentangle Black subjectivity from dominant American subjectivity, it’s hard to have a genuine anti-imperialist critique. Hence the marginalized Vietnamese. This is not an argument for more Vietnamese inclusion just to have Vietnamese faces and voices. As always, it’s a demand that you can’t decolonize and de-imperialize if you keep reiterating the imperial country’s point of view, even from the minority perspective.
Don’t believe me, read Martin Luther King, Jr. Everybody read that. Really.
Now I’ve done my duty and I didn’t even finish my first snifter of Cognac. Bye all, thanks for following.
PS they had 5 writers on that movie and couldn’t find one Asian American or Vietnamese writer. That, my friends, is bullshit.