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Which Mirror Is ‘Truer’?

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Portrayal of the Vietnam War in Apocalypse Now and Cánh Đồng Hoang

image of Journal of American-East Asian Relations

This essay examines the portrayal of the Vietnam War in one Vietnamese war film—Cánh Đồng Hoang (Wild Rice Field, also known as the Abandoned Field) and one American war film—Apocalypse Now. Released the same year (1979), both received acclaim from film viewers and critics, with the former winning the Golden Prize of the Moscow International Film Festival and the latter two Oscars. This study examines the starkly different way each cinematic product depicts the enemy and nationalism, provides an explanation of the contrast, and assesses how both films sustain, reinforce, and challenge the hegemonic and ideological structure of the two societies during that time. Apocalypse Now evokes sympathy for both u.s. soldiers and the Vietnamese, but its portrayal of these Asian people as faceless and inferior illustrates a culturally imperial approach toward a Third World people. Cánh Đồng Hoang conveys a romanticized, conventional version of the war where the “us” triumphs over the “them” in the defense of the nation. This essay seeks not to show that one film is better, but rather how a large gap exists in American and Vietnamese understanding of one another. Only bridging that gap will promote a better appreciation of each side’s political, social, and cultural background and perspectives.

Affiliations: 1: American University,


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