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Rather than concentrating on blood, gore, jewellery made of ears etc., this film chooses to focus on the lighter part of the Vietnam War, specifically the enlightenment of a civilisation thousands of years old by playing them Chuck Berry and Louie Louie at every possible opportunity. At the centre of this drama is Robin Williams, a motor mouth US army DJ who keeps up an insufferable patter of jokes suitable for a family audience for the duration of the film. Williams starts teaching English in a local school. Watching Vietnamese actors repeating phrases like ‘take me to the ball game’ and ‘gee whizz I want a hot dog’ in their hilarious Vietnamese accents is undoubtedly one of the most heart warming and funny moments in the film.
However, despite its lightness, this is a film that deals with SERIOUS ISSUES. Complications abound when Williams falls in love with a beautiful Vietnamese girl in his class, who a) might be nearly 12 b) is apparently untroubled by the power relationship implications of shagging the colonial oppressor/older man/teacher rolled into one. The director skilfully demonstrates how barriers of language, culture and race can be overcome by the simple power of love and by Williams’ endearing gift of the gab, as the girl eventually warms to him saying ‘you love me long time’ hilariously over and over again.
There is some additional stupid plot about a bad army officer who doesn’t approve of rock n roll and the girl’s brother, who apparently is in the Vietcong. Her brother, in spite of his apparent friendship for Williams sets a trap for him: When the needle of his record player touches Great Balls of Fire, he is enveloped in a bamboo cage.
Williams: (Irrepressible) I guess you’ve heard all my Woodrow Wilson jokes then..
Vietcong boy: Yes Mr Williams, you imperialist pig, you will rot in this cage 10 years for every time you soiled my sister with your vile capitalist pig body.
Williams: Gee, I guess Little Richard will have a new album out by then. (nobody laughs).
Eventually Stallone comes to rescue him in Rambo 2.
The film poignantly ends with Williams forced to say a sad yet loving farewell to the Vietnamese girl who heartbreakingly decides to stay behind as she: cannot bear to leave her family/wants to be gang raped by squaddies/ would rather be executed for fraternising with the enemy by the Cong than go and live with a man who’s clearly old enough to be her granddad.