There’s a ton of entertaining books and movies about Vietnam. Before you pack your bags, why not watch a few films and read a few books. You’ll not only learn something about the country, but you’ll also get yourself psyched for your adventures. Here’s some recommendations from me. Full disclosure: the links will take you to Amazon where you can buy the product. If you do happen to buy it, Amazon gives us about a buck. We promise not to buy anything frivolous with that money.
Vietnam – The Ten Thousand Day War (1980)
We all know how great Vietnam War movies are. I could fill this list with some of my favourite films (Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, The Deer Hunter), but frankly those films don’t really have much “Vietnam” in them. If you really want to learn about the war, Vietnam – The Ten Thousand Day War is your best bet. It’s a mini-series comprised of 26 half-hour episodes that cover everything you need to know. The Canadian filmmakers did a great job in presenting the information in an unbiased way, from both sides of the story.
A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines
No one describes Vietnam like Anthony Bourdain. He loves the country, and his excitement for it is contagious. The way he describes the food makes me want to fly to Saigon for my lunch break.
As the black coffee dribbles slowly through and around the ice cubes, swirling gently in dark-on-white wisps through the milk, I feel Vietnam doing the same thing to my brain. I’m in love. I am absolutely over-the-top gonzo for this country and everything in it. I want to stay forever.
The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phuc, the Photograph, and the Vietnam War
Kim Phuc was seven years old when she was severely burned by napalm. This image was taken of her running naked down the street. It won a Pulitzer Prize and is without a doubt one of the most disturbing images of the Vietnamese War. Denise Chong wrote Kim Phuc’s biography detailing what happened before and after the photo. The book tells an amazing story and haunts its readers, similar to how the photo haunts its viewers.
The Quiet American
Published in 1955, this political novel about the French war in Vietnam is frequently included in top 100 book lists. It focuses on the relationship between a French journalist and a young, well-educated American man. It’s anti-war, and some claim anti-American. In any case, the author Graham Greene (a former war correspondent for The Times) puts together sentences that make you float from word to word in awe.
So it always is: when you escape to a desert the silence shouts in your ear.
The Scent of Green Papaya (1993)
The only Vietnamese film nominated for an Academy Award, although it was made by a French company, and shot entirely at a studio in France. It tells a nice story about a young Vietnamese girl in the 1940s who works as a servant for a family. The shots are beautiful. The pacing is slow and calculated. It’s worth watching it for the nasty little boy’s trademark move. I don’t want to spoil it, so all I’ll say is that it surprised the crap out of me and made me laugh uncontrollably.
Three Seasons (1999)
This film’s story revolves around various characters in Ho Chi Minh City, but the real star of the movie is the city itself. Westernization is coming, Saigon is changing, which means the people must change too. Three Seasons was the first film to capture both the Grand Jury Award and Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. If that’s not enough, in one of the many story lines Harvey Keitel plays a Vietnam War vet who comes back to Vietnam to find his daughter. It’s hard to find a recent movie that showcases modern Vietnam like this film does. The cinematography is stellar.