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Buena Vista Home Entertainment

The paradoxical experience of Vietnam for Westerners comes to astonishing life in this movie. Unlike Platoon (1986) and Full Metal Jacket (1987), here we find violence at the periphery, and seduction front and center. Just who courts whom remains the key question.

dvd: The Quiet American Released in 2002, this version of Graham Greene's famous novel (1955) emphasizes the beauty of a landscape that functions as pure fantasy. Its intensity alone shivers the voice of Jack Fowler (Michael Caine), the central character, in his initial voice-over. If we imagine that Vietnam defined its identity by American presence, or even by warfare, we will sail right along with him into Dreamland.

As the embattled central figure, Caine confesses the extraordinary sensuality of the setting distracts him from his work as a British journalist. At home, he would be just a common adulterer, but here he keeps a mistress who persuades him of his continuing virility and nobility. Europeans' high opinion of their virtue comes in for a significant shellacking in this movie. At sheer deviousness, Caine could not be better. For every lie, oh, how he suffers!

The delicacy of his heartthrob forces us to admire her. Shuttling along in his wake, she always seems to be carrying flowers -- in her hair or in the words she speaks. Due to the performance of Do Thi Hai Yen, we forget the meaning of "whore" and "second banana."

Only two characters express outrage at a flower of a woman throwing her life away on a dilettante. Her plain and dour sister (Pham Thi Mai Hoa) excels at the role of family protector, reminding her sibling severely that no Vietnamese male will find her acceptable as a second-hand bride. Love as a destroyer, then, could not be clearer. Completing the fourth corner of a square formed by two romantic triangles, Brendan Fraser offers to marry this Second-Hand Vietnamese Rose.

This act becomes the rope on which the plot hangs like a twitching corpse. Stepping into the love life of a desperate European also serves as an analogy for American foreign policy with no end in sight for intrigue.

At first, we accept Frazer's cover as a do-gooder -- just as Fowler does. But, no! Here comes the CIA, reeking of innocence and nobility, too! Since when do spies rescue purloined treasures by marrying them? Can two men from completely different perspectives both fall head-over-heels for the very same Flower Drum Girl? Keeping our head on straight challenges us left and right in this romantic thriller -- deadly in its complexities.

Bombs go off eventually, as they seem to do when America tiptoes into exotic locales. But sex remains the key factor here for explaining the nature of international relations. Does one country romance another to death sometimes? Or, does taking a country to bed just resolve all conflicts? Surely, this plot suggests that, on the other side of the globe, people become strangers yea unto themselves. So, stay home and cherish this movie! After that, we can scan Sayonara (1957) for sneak-peaks into foreign policy.

Meg Curtis

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