Who Watches the Watchmen in Vietnam? by mattsteinglass
April 4, 2009, 3:32 am
Filed under: Books, Media, Vietnam

Not many, as it turns out. “Watchmen” has been playing at the Hanoi Megastar Cineplex since March 20; when I went at 8:15 pm tonight, the seats were half full. I went largely because I wondered how the Vietnamese censors would deal with the sections of the movie in which Dr. Manhattan wins the war. The answer: incoherently. They left in the sequence in which the good Dr. strolls along pointing at Viet Cong guerrillas, who obligingly explode; they left in a conversation between Dr. Manhattan and The Comedian in some kind of Vietnamese bar, where The Comedian says “If we had lost this war, I think it’d have driven us crazy”; they left in a moment where Dr. Manhattan says “Nixon asked me to intervene in Vietnam, something his predecessors would not have done.” There was clearly some Vietnam footage cut out, as there was a significant jump-cut right after the Vietnam bar scene and somewhere else. But there was certainly enough in there to get the gist of things.

And how did the Vietnamese audience react? Generally pretty unexcited by both the Vietnam portions of the movie and the other portions of the movie. I talked to a 20-year-old university student afterwards named Thong Duc Thanh. “This was maybe the third or fourth worst movie I’ve ever seen,” he said. He found it boring. And what about the provocative America-wins-the-Vietnam-War scenes? “I think it’s the same idea as if America had used nuclear weapons in the war,” Thanh said. “And if America used nuclear weapons, the Russians would have used nuclear weapons. And then we wouldn’t be standing here talking about this now.” Guy has a point. On the “boring” allegation, it was pretty clear that the Vietnamese audience had no understanding of many of the telltale alternate-reality-signaling plot points. When we see a newspaper headline “Nixon Reelected for 3rd Term,” that means nothing to Vietnamese; they don’t know that US Presidents are limited to two terms, they don’t know Nixon was forced to step down midway through his second term, so it doesn’t register as a bitter joke. Neither does the last scene, where a newspaper kid announces Ronald Reagan may run for President in 1988 and the editor dismisses the suggestion; Vietnamese don’t know when Ronald Reagan was president.

I actually quite liked the film, though I was disappointed at the absence of lesbian cab drivers and gruesome pirate comics.


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