One of the most serious problems with works addressing films about the Vietnam War is that, to some degree, they will always participate in the reduction of Vietnam the country to Vietnam the war. Where Vietnam is spoken of, it is always in the context of America, as half of an uneasy but seemingly indissoluble historical couple. To reduce Vietnam to the war between that country and America (a war that is significantly referred to as the “American War” in Vietnam), or to any war for that matter, is obviously problematic. Nevertheless, films about war have a unique ability to reveal important historical and cultural aspects of a people as a result of the necessary intersections
of nationalism, art, and history that they contain. Because Vietnam has endured many wars throughout its long history, not the least of which was the American conflict, studying Vietnamese films that treat issues of war might be seen as instructive. […]
When the average American thinks of films about the Vietnam War they no doubt recall canonized classics such as The Deer Hunter (Cimino, 1978), Full Metal Jacket (Kubrick, 1987), and Platoon (Stone, 1986). However, the recognized corpus of American films about the conflict fails to offer a complete and balanced picture of the war, even in the rare instances where these films feature Vietnamese characters. While American fiction films about the war have been duly criticized in recent years for their often blatantly stereotypical or derogatory treatment of the Vietnamese, such criticism does not adequately redress the striking absence of Vietnamese subjectivity in these films. […]
While war as loss is one of the major tropes of American films about the Vietnam War, loss in [Vietnamese war films] is figured on a more material level. It is also significant that these films figure loss through strong women characters, the likes of which are almost completely absent in the canonized American films about the war. Women, as survivors, become repositories for national memory and mourning. The focus in these films on home and loss is particularly relevant to the Vietnamese cinematic style, which often privileges the poetic in order to express a sense of mourning and humanity. […]
At the 1988 premiere of the Vietnam Film Project, director Dinh Quang responded to a question about the fundamental differences between Vietnamese and American films concerning the war by saying, “We’ve lived through 30 years of war, so we don’t have to relive it on the screen. Our films show the impact of the war on people’s lives and thinking. As for entertainment, we lost many, many people in the war. To use that for entertainment would be unworthy.” Dinh Quang’s comment speaks to one of the central aspects of Vietnamese filmmaking, namely an intense focus on humanity. […] In their choices of characters, stories, and settings, Vietnamese films always stress the relationships between people (families, villages, etc) because these relationships are seen as the threads from which the country is woven.
— Toward a New Canon: The Vietnam Conflict through Vietnamese Lenses by Laurel Westup.