“She's the Real Thing”

Filming the Nostalgic Past through Vietnamese Women

Diem-My T. Bui


This chapter examines three US-produced films about Vietnam released post-embargo: Heaven and Earth (1993), The Quiet American (2002), and Three Seasons (1999). By considering the discursive construction of the films, including how the actresses participate or are represented in them, I explore variations on Trinh T. Minh-ha's question on the Other: Who speaks? What speaks? How does the speaker establish knowledge about Vietnamese women when “speaking about” a story? Following the films' releases, the United States and Vietnam underwent economic and political changes in their relationship that made Vietnam more accessible to multinational corporations and tourists. By constructing Vietnamese womanhood and women as available for discovery by the West in these films, Vietnam and Vietnamese women became part of the renewed accessibility and the reenactment of transnational mobility stories. The films suggest that the women's bodies are the means of returning to an idyllic past untainted by war and global capitalism.

In director Brian de Palma's film Casualties of War (1989), Private Eriksson, played by Michael J. Fox, spots an Asian woman on a bus and flashes back to his service in the Vietnam War. There begins his story of the rape, torture, and murder of a Vietnamese girl taken hostage during a raid of a suspected Vietcong village. The girl is central to the transformation Eriksson ...

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