the blue lagoon

he 80s again, another film that I’d seen when I was a young boy, and liked it very much: The Blue Lagoon. Broadcasted on Vietnamese (analog) TV under the title: Eo biển xanh, the film was a strange phenomena, in an extremely closed and strictly censored environment as Vietnam as of the 80s. It’s the 1980 adaptation from the book of the same name, there’re many other adaptations as well: 1923, 1949, 1991, 2012…

The Victorian era, two children shipwrecked alone on a tropical island. They thrive on the bounty of jungle and lagoon, the boy grows tall, the girl beautiful. When their love happens, it is as natural as the sea, and as powerful. Despite its extreme nudity, negative reviews, quite low rating etc… (which I only know by now), back then, I simply did (and still do) just love it! 🙂 To know why, see the movie screenshots below!

the pleasure room

aven’t watched the movie (50 shades of grey) yet, nor do I really want to (haven’t gone to the cinema for the last 10 years or so, and I don’t even have a TV at home also), just want to make a little parody! 🙂 Having lots of intentions to widen and upgrade my boat – building workshop, and lots of new ideas on boats too, but currently pretty much busy with my works… hope to materialize them in the upcoming months!

all the rivers run

nyone still remember this famous Australian television series (1983) ?! I can’t remember exactly when, but the series was broadcasted on Vietnam TV some time in the late 80s, under the title: Tất cả những dòng sông đều chảy. It created deep impressions in me, even though many years have passed, and now, I can’t really remember all film’s details, but the silhouette of the paddle steamer Philadelphia, the protagonist Philadelphia Gordon (Sigrid Thornton), after whom the boat is named, and captain Brenton Edwards (John Waters), their struggles for life and happiness… raised in me lots of inspirations about life on rivers (and life as rivers), with all its ups and downs, all its hardship and poetic moments. Look at the pictures below, how lovely is the couple at helm!

For today, I really like it after the rains, the water is so calm and warm, a curtain of light mist hangs across river and over mangrove swamp regions. Almost silence, only me, sound of the paddle and water drops. Some few times, ships’ horn breaks the “viscosity” of this vast, obscured space, reminds me that I’m not alone still in this all – calmly – moving world… A harvest along my paddling path, a cluster of fruits from the mangrove palm tree. Why do I have to buy it in the city while I can get one for free in wide wild nature!? Choose a ripe one, take some effort to cut it down while standing on my small floating kayak, carry home, crack open the fruits in halves, take the inside, add some little sugar and put into the fridge for an about hour, a good dessert indeed! 🙂

the godfather





et everyone knows this film, and almost everyone loves it, I really like to watch it from time to time too: The GodFather. Of the three parts of the movie: I (1972), II (1974) and III (1990), the previous ones are more enjoyable in my opinion, hardly can something grow under the shadow of a big tree, and this is no exception.

I especially like the 1st part, it introduces fresh and detailed colors and sounds into the world of Italian and Sicilian: their songs, music, customs, relationships, language, personalities… Some scenes in the film have become classical and canonical metaphors for many situations in life. They are even using this movie as examples for lessons on running a business, some quotes from the film:

– Vito Corleone: I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.

– Tom Hagen: Your father wouldn’t want to hear this Sonny! This is business, not personal! – Sonny Corleone: They shoot my father and it’s business, my ass! – Tom Hagen: Even shooting your father was business, not personal, Sonny! – Sonny Corleone: Well, business is going to have to suffer then!

– Vito Corleone: [to Michael Corleone] Listen, whoever comes to you with this Barzini meeting, he’s the traitor. Don’t forget that. (I really like this wise idea too)

– Tessio: [to Tom Hagen] Tell Mike it was only business, I always liked him. – Tom Hagen: He understands that. – Tessio: Can you get me off the hook, Tom? For old times’ sake? – Tom Hagen: [shakes his head] Can’t do it, Sally.

– Michael Corleone: Just don’t tell me you’re innocent! It doesn’t make me angry, it insults my intelligence!

russian movies

ome recently seen (in the past few weeks) post – Soviet Russian war movies: Admiral (2008), Attack on Leningrad (2009) and Brest Fortress (2010). I can’t say anything rather than: marvelous! Both these three films should be on top of greatest war films, in many aspects: acting, costume and makeup, sound & music… comparable to any other war films ever made in the West. CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) is really good but maybe still a bit after that of Hollywood.

Russian cinema has made excellent advances, less propagandic, less rigid patterns, closer to real people in real life… that the things that made the films worth watching! In my opinion, of the series of three, the later the more interesting ones (though others may have their own different idea and evaluation).

Admiral (2008)

The films recites the life of Aleksandr Kolchak, admiral of the Russian Empire Navy. Kolchak himself was a complex character, living in a complex time: a famed Polar explorer, a valorous naval commander, a passionate lover, and eventually the Supreme Governor of the anti – communist White forces. No longer ruled by a dictatorial doctrine, Russia is now seeking to bring back true images of an extremely harsh period in her history.

The film starts with glorious feats of Kolchak commanding a destroyer in the Navy, his bravery in battles, his love affair with Anna Timiryova… and then the Red October came. Kolchak becomes the Supreme Ruler of the White Russia, who fought against the Bolshevik. Kolchak has far less success as a political leader than as a naval commander, he was finally arrested and executed by the Red. After decades of being vilified by the Soviet government, Kolchak is still now a controversial figure though there’re been rehabilitation movements to restore the place he deserves in Russian history.



Attack on Leningrad (2009)

An English journalist (of Russian origin) was trapped in the besieged city of Leningrad, the war correspondent Kate Davis was assumed dead but find herself among the starving people of the city struggling for their own survival. With the help of a kind and idealistic police women Nina Tsvetnova, they live through the 900 days in that sieged hell where food shortage only permits a ration of 125 gram of bread for each person a day. Encirclement around the city was almost completed, the only supply route through lake Ladoga was called the Road of Life (and also the Road of Death).

Nina Tsvetnova later guides a soldier group attempting to re – establish the supply route across the frozen surface of the lake. As a reward, she is permitted to bring members of her family out of the city. Nina along with the journalist take one child out with them. They succeeded but decide to return to help another child. Both two women died in the terrible city but saved two children out of the 1.5 million civil death toll, half of the city’s population.



Brest Fortress (2010)

Brest fortress was the strong hold which accounts for 5% of total Germany losses in the first phase of their Russia invasion. When German started the war, the Russian was unprepared, under – powered and defeated easily, their army was in all the way to retreat, except for this fortress. Defensed by a small unit, a regiment formation of soldiers along with their families, the fortress stands for almost a month when German has already advanced hundreds of miles into Soviet territory, leaving the point an isolated symbolically heroic fortification.

Yet they fight to the last man without any food, medical and ammunition supply, without any reinforcement. Alexander Akimov, a 15 year old young cadet of the fortress lived through the bloodshed resistance, trying to help other soldiers and his girlfriend Anya. He is the lone survivor to recall the story. The film is indeed beautiful: it concentrates on normal people, their daily lives and activities, their love, hate and humanly feelings… their choices and fates against the brutalities of war!



12 angry men




ne of the films I’ve really enjoyed recently, having some free times during the new year holiday to “re – master” some classics. Yes, it is truly a classical master – piece! Off 95 minutes of the picture, almost 90 min is spent in just a single room, with 12 men discussing, arguing, debating… There’s not even a single frame for flashbacks, visualizations or imagined scenes or such things, a 2 – hour continuous hard talk between 12 jurors of a trial’s jury, to decide in a murder case whether a boy is guilty or not.

Although some scenarios in the film are quite predictable, and some details are somewhat illogical (those that could hardly occur in real world), the fascinating part of the film is about the diversity of the jury board: 12 men from different backgrounds, ages, professions… different personalities, their logic systems, their value scales… and their prejudices. Some just doesn’t care, some is more or less “a yes man”, flipping sides at any times, some just want to kill the boy cause he grew up in slum, and slum is where crime was born…

Only one man has the braveness that leads him (and later the whole board) to the truth! The film gets to the core of the American juridical system, and helps explaining why the country has a strong democracy: democratic is built upon the votes (decision making) of a mass, it’s the quality, the responsibility of the mass that decide outcomes. The film also helps explaining why in some countries, dictatorship is the only thing that’s possible. That is, eventually, people get the ruling system, the kind of government they’ve wanted!

the sorrow of war… film?

“Better to die than surrender, my brothers! Better to die!” – the battalion commander yelled insanely; waving his pistol, and in front of Kien, he blew his own brains out through his ear. (The Sorrow of War)

An un-put-down-able novel. It should win the Pulitzer prize, but it won’t. It’s too gripping for that. (The Guardian)

Dramatic… Will force American readers to acknowledge how little they still understand of the long war that left such a legacy of grief and guilt in their own country. (The Washington Post)

The Sorrow of War has won worldwide acclaim and become an international best-seller. (Amazon.com)

good news: 8th, May, 2008, The Sorrow of War novel will be turned into movie by an American director: Nicolas Simon. After 10 years of discussion and negotiation, Bảo Ninh, the novel’s author finally permitted making of the film based on his famous book. The producer, Dominic Scriven, a very passionate admirer and friend of the author, who now holds the book copyright and want to transfer it onto the silver screen. An even better news: 9th, Aug, 2008, author of The Sorrow of War novel stated that he wouldn’t have any further connection with the The Sorrow of War movie project.

The reason given is: film’s script is not aligned with the author’s ideas. In fact, many people is doubtful that an unnamed director would be capable of working on such a great novel, although the producer (Dominic Scriven) ‘s goodwill is widely recognized! The movie project is now paused, in searching for another director! That’s a very good thing in my opinion, in the fear that we would have another history distortion (or even worse)! A picture is worth a thousand words? That’s not always true, think twice (or read the book)! In this case, words are worth thousands of pictures (or a movie)!

The novel is, more or less, an semi – autobiography. Bảo Ninh himself (or the protagonist Kiên in the novel) was a soldier in the 24th battalion, a special formation commissioned to the B3 front (central highland) in 1969. Of the unit’s 500 man, he is among the only 10 survivors. The story is an nonlinear scatter of memories, mixed the past with the moments of post-war time: childhood, a high school’s love story, the battles, and importantly lives after war.

The Sorrow of War is without doubt timeless. Perhaps it is one of the world’s greatest war novels ever written. Imagine the film Apocalypse Now and increase its effect, say by a factor of a thousand – this is the power of Bảo Ninh’s writing. I remember shivers in my spine when first reading the book, some 15 years ago! Just surf around some online bookstores, to see what readers have said about the book:

  • If this book doesn’t make you cry, you have no soul.

  • It’s definitely not a book for everyone, and I nearly put it down during the first 50-60 pages. But, I soon became wrapped up in the story and the language.

  • Books usually lay with me on my bed and after their formal end we sleep together for a few days but after the last sentence I promptly put this right back on my shelf and am having trouble thinking about it again. I had horrible nightmares during the read.

  • This book is amazing. The story progresses thematically rather than chronologically, and leaves you piecing together historical non-fictional events… He succeeds in taking the reader on a difficult journey of emotional and spiritual crisis, right to the core of the human condition and captures a sorrowful despair like no other literature I’ve ever read.

  • Like pouring acid on your moral center…

  • Just an excellent novel. To everybody who considers The Things They Carried the penultimate work of fiction about the Vietnam War: pick up The Sorrow of War and be prepared to be blown away by the stories of a Vietnamese.

  • In fact, my view of just about everything I thought I knew about North Vietnam from the mid-60’s to the mid-70’s was altered by this book.

  • This book is unbelievably emotional. The style of writing is unique: it is not linear or chronological in any way. It is chaotic, a reflection on the subject of the book. The writing style, though chaotic, seems to be a perfected style. The book was written with total disregard to order; there is no doubt that all was deliberate.

the battle of iadrang

To make war all you need is intelligence.
But to win you need talent and material.

For whom the bell tolls – E. Hemingway[1]

Col.Gen. Harold Moore and Col.Gen. Nguyễn Hữu An returned to the old battlefield, Oct, 1993, exchanging their diaries, maps, operational notes, memories and friendship.

The IaDrang Campaign was to the Vietnam War what the terrible Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s was to World War II – a dress rehearsal. The place where new tactics, techniques and weapons were tested, perfected and validated. In the IaDrang, both sides claimed victory and both sides drew lessons, some of them dangerously deceptive, which echoed and resonated throughout the decade of bloody fighting and bitter sacrifice that was to come.

While those who have never known war may fail to see the logic, this story also stands as tribute to the hundreds of young men of the 320th, 33rd and 66th regiments of the Peoples Army of Vietnam who died by our hand in that place. They, too, fought and died bravely. They were a worthy enemy.

ar, 1965, the first U.S troops arrived in Vietnam (Danang). 8 months later, their first major engagement with the VPA in a large battle (of regimental, divisional size) took place at the Valley of IaDrang, which is since then known as the Valley of Death. Feb, 1994, President Bill Clinton announced the normalization in relationship with Vietnam. In an action to bootstrap of the process, in 1993, a film was made featuring the old bloodshed battle of IaDrang. Thus, battle of IaDrang marks the begin and end of a long-time painful and bitter relationship between the two nations. Up to the present days, lots of people from both sides still can not get it right about what had really happened then and there. The story below tries to recall the truth.

But first, about the film: We were soldiers is based on We were soldiers once… and young, a book written by Harold Moore himself, as one of the direct commanders in the battle (on the American side). It’s a Randall Wallace‘s film, the famous director of Brave Heart, Pearl Harbor, and now We were soldiers, with Mel Gibson as Lt.Col. Hal Moore, and Đơn Dương as Lt.Col. Nguyễn Hữu An. To my disappointment, the film is no better than any other Hollywood’s films such as Black Hawk Down, solely made to demonstrate American heroism. Exactly as written in Harold Moore’s book: Hollywood got it wrong every damned time, whetting twisted political knives on the bones of our dead brothers.

The film is no exception, it takes many of the small facts of the book onto it, but only to falsely portray the historical events. In fact, the film is a distortion of facts that happened, of peoples involved in the battle, especially the figure of Lt.Col. Nguyễn Hữu An. In a sense, the film has undermined the author Hal Moore’s (and many other American veterans) sincerity and goodwill. Hal Moore is also a man of literature talent, the following line is written upon his revisiting the old battlefield, 1993, accompanied by general An, about the battle and his old enemy (column on the left).

Strictly speaking, Lt.Col. Harold Moore was not the corresponding counterpart of Lt.Col. Nguyễn Hữu An, he was one of the three direct commanders in the battle, a battalion under Thomas W. Brown. Nguyễn Hữu An was then the division commander of the 325th. But history has brought the two man into one battle and a rendezvous aftermath. Battle of IaDrang was actually two main battles in an operation which lasted for one month (between American 1st division and VPA’s 320th, 33rd and 66th regiments). The main confrontations were at the X-Ray and Albany landing zones, between the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd battalions of the 7th cavalry regiment of the U.S army with the 7th, 8th, 9th battalions of the 66th regiment (and one company of the 33th regiment) of the VPA. Hence, in formations’ numbers, the two sides have equal forces.

Contrary to many many sources, Lt.Col. Nguyễn Hữu An did not have any advantages in power comparison, even in number of man. All his infantry battalions are light-armed units, with just some mortars. On the adversary side are air assault and air mobility cavalry units, with superior fire power support. From the air, an average number of 300 sorties per day was made, with all available air units in south Vietnam, and on land, field artillery came in heavy use. So the ratio here is at least 3:1 with the weaker is the Vietnamese side. Some sources give intentionally wrong information like: the landing troop of 400 man was surrounded by 4,000 soldiers, in fact, 4,000 was number in the whole area (not each individual landing zone), in the same way, we can say: two VPA regiments confronted with forces of the 1st division (a typical American division has at least 20,000 personnel).

The battle witnessed extreme uses of fire power: for the first time in history, strategic bombers B52 are used for tactical roles, air mobility by helicopters reached the highest level ever since the start of WWII. The VPA learned that they could neutralize the effectiveness of that fire power by quickly engaging American forces at close range, thus turned the battle into a close-quarter struggles with mainly knife, bayonet and other small arms. A series of well-planed ambushes turned the American situation to desperate. Finally, they know that they can not deny or hide an obvious defeat, then dropped napalm bombs to clear all vestiges, sacrificing all, including man of their own. This is known as one of the most savage battle and can be considered as microcosm of the whole war.

The American casualties is about 700, the Vietnamese is about 1100, a victory to Lt.Col. Nguyễn Hữu An in consideration to forces participated in the confrontation. The battle set up, for the first time, an example in which a modern Calvary division can be defeated (Calvary division was then a new concept of air assault and air mobility units, formed firstly in the Vietnam war). In fact, the battle is blueprint of tactics successfully anticipated by Lt.Col. Nguyễn Hữu An, many interesting details can be found in his memoir (all details, facts, formations, numbers, estimations… in this post can be confirmed by both 2 memoirs from the 2 sides). He is named: the General of Battles for his exceptional talent in tactical problems. The man is among only a few number of generals in Vietnam who truly gained respect from the people, not only for his success in military career but also for his righteous attitude toward history and moral principles he’s practiced in life.

[1] Hemingway’s words were true in the Spanish civil war, but it’s not true anymore in the Vietnam war. Even with talent and material, you still can not win it.

[2] The phrase: The forest of Screaming Souls may have been first introduced in the famous Vietnamese novel The sorrow of war by Bảo Ninh. The author (also the main character Kiên in the novel) was also a soldier in this B3 (Central Highland) front.

Wild flowers now grow in those places of violent death. The IaDrang from PleiMe west is uninhabited except for a few montagnards who are/have been driven out to the east near PleiKu. The Ia Drang/Chu Pong area is now known as The forest of Screaming Souls [2] and remains mysterious and beautiful.

Hoa dại giờ mọc đầy trên mảnh đất từng đầy rẫy chết chóc. Vùng IaDrang đến giờ vẫn không có ai cư trú, ngoại trừ một vài sắc dân miền núi đang được di dân về hướng đông gần PleiKu. IaDrang, ChưPrông nay được biết đến với cái tên Truông Gọi Hồn, vẫn nguyên vẹn huyền bí và đẹp đẽ như tự ngàn xưa.

thị xã trong tầm tay

Dedicated to personnel of the 3 rd division,
who heroically defended the town, Feb ~ Mar, 1979.

xactly 30 years ago… things as seen aftermath, when the bloodshed battles have just been over… Film name: Thị xã trong tầm tay, screenplayer & director: Đặng Nhật Minh, type: 35mm black and white film, year of production: 1982, music, lyric & dialogue: Trịnh Công Sơn & Hoàng Phủ Ngọc Tường.

3rd division (nickname: Yellow Star, official number: 359th) is an elite (but not regular!) formation of the VPA (Vietnam People Army), originally formed and served in the 5th military region (central of Vietnam). For its exceptional performance in the Vietnam war, in 1976, the unit was deployed to the 1st military region in preparation for any threats from the north. The responsibility was to defend Lạng Sơn province, with the historical positions: Đồng Đăng, Kỳ Lừa, Chi Lăng…

When it happened 3 years later, nominally, no regular formation had been committed to battle, the Strategic Army’s 1st and 2nd Corps still stationed around Hà Nội, behind the Như Nguyệt river (aka Cầu river) defence perimeter, in case of any deeper penetrations. Only local militia units took charges of absorbing the offensive forces. In reality, some of the most combat – hardened units, such as the 3rd (359th), the 346th divisions, had already engaged in.

At the outbreak of the Sino – Vietnam war, Feb, Mar, 1979, facing an enemy roughly 9 times outnumbered (against the Chinese 127th, 128th, 148th, 161th, 163th, 164th, 165th infantry divisions with their supporting artillery and tank units), Yellow Star fiercely defended a line of 60 km in width, only permitted the enemy to advance less than 30 km in depth, at an average rate of 0.8 km per day, and at an huge price of loss (about 11.000 Chinese casualties on only this front, to the overall number of 60.000)!

The division’s personnel also helped in training other defending units the following years. The final offensive had been carefully planned and prepared, but canceled due to the opponent’s unilateral withdrawal and other political reasons, thus denying the unit an evident victory. However, that’s enough for the division to receive great fear and respect from the adversary side! What was left is the completely destroyed provincial capital town of Lạng Sơn, no house is known to stand inside the town, the spaces recalled by the film!

for whom the bell tolls

Men of five still alive through the raging glow.
Gone insane from the pain that they surely know.

(Metallica)

xcerpts from the 1943 film following Hemingway’s novel. In some aspects, this is a great film, highly symbolic and dramatical, beautiful staging and casting, but still nowhere closed to the book. So read the book here (zipped text file)! It’s said that Hemingway handpicked the actors and actresses himself for the roles, but he greatly disliked the film due to it’s political content removal.

Excerpt 1: The old guerilla man of El Sordo and his last four men make their last stand on a dead-end hilltop. They’re waiting for their fate to come, and the young Joaquin does the praying when the Russian machine gun barrel turns hot on his shoulder as the planes approach: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen!.

Robert Jordan, as illustrated on this Vietnamese translate book cover, using a Lewis gun, or just called a mácquina as in the book.

…Dying was nothing and he had no picture of it nor fear of it in his mind. But living was a field of grain blowing in the wind on the side of a hill. Living was a hawk in the sky. Living was an earthen jar of water in the dust of the threshing with the grain flailed out and the chaff blowing. Living was a horse between your legs and a carbine under one leg and a hill and a valley and a stream with trees along it and the far side of the valley and the hills beyond…

Excerpt 2: Robert Jordan, severely wounded on the way retreat after the mission, says farewell to his lover María. He stays behind to cover the enemy for others to safely escape. The scene removes the detail of Agustín asks if Jordan need a shot or he can manage himself once left behind. Counting the last minutes of his life, in such moment, one can hear the bell tolling for his soul!

Lieutenant Berrendo, watching the trail, came riding up, his thin face serious and grave. His submachine gun lay across his saddle in the crook of his left arm. Robert Jordan lay behind the tree, holding onto himself very carefully and delicately to keep his hands steady. He was waiting until the officer reached the sunlit place where the first trees of the pine forest joined the green slope of the meadow. He could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest.