We Were Soldiers (2002), the cinematic image of the first major clash between regular North Vietnamese and U.S. troops at Ia Drang in Southern Vietnam over three days in November 1965, is the Vietnam War version of Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line. The director, writer and producer, Randall Wallace, depicts both American family values and dying soldiers. The movie is based on the book We Were Soldiers Once…and Young by the US commander in the battle, retired Lt Gen. Harold G. Moore (in a John Wayne-like performance by Mel Gibson). In the film, the US troops have little idea of what they face, are overrun, and suffer heavy casualties: the American GIs fight for their comrades, not for their fatherland. This narrow patriotism is accompanied by a new theme: the respect for the victims ‘on the other side’. For the first time in the Hollywood tradition, we see fading shots of dying ‘VC’ and of their widows reading loved ones’ diaries. This is not because the filmmaker was emphasizing ‘love and peace’ instead of ‘war’, but more importantly, Wallace seems to say, that war is noble.
Ironically, the popular Vietnamese actor, Don Duong, who plays the communist commander Nguyen Huu An, who led the Vietnamese People's Army to victory, has been criticized at home for tarnishing the image of Vietnamese soldiers. Don Duong has appeared in several foreign films and numerous Vietnamese-made movies about the War. He has also played a pedicab driver in the movie Three Seasons (2000) and a refugee camp translator in Green Dragon (2001), both directed by award-winning Vietnamese-American filmmaker Tony Bui. In these movies, he represents for the first time a genuine person, a belated portrayal by American filmmakers of Asians, or here Vietnamese, no longer as ‘others’. His countrymen, through the official Army newspaper, see it differently and call him “a national traitor” (Peoples' Army Daily 18 September 2002).