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Vietnam May Punish Movie Actor

September 20, 2002

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HANOI, Vietnam (AP) _ Vietnamese officials debated Friday whether the Vietnamese actor who starred with Mel Gibson in ``We Were Soldiers″ is a national traitor and should be punished.

Don Duong is accused of distorting the history and image of Vietnamese soldiers. Authorities in his hometown of Ho Chi Minh City have recommended he be fined and barred from acting and from leaving the country for five years.

Officials from the Ministry of Culture and Information were meeting Friday to consider the proposal, and will submit a recommendation to the ministry for a final decision, ministry Cinematic Department Director Nguyen Phuc Thanh said.

Vietnam’s communist government has led a strident campaign against ``We Were Soldiers″ in the country’s state-controlled media.

The movie, not approved for sale in Vietnam but widely available on bootleg DVDs, depicts a bloody three-day battle in November 1965 in Vietnam’s Ia Drang valley, the first major clash between the North Vietnamese army and U.S. troops in the Vietnam War.

In the film, the U.S. troops have little idea of what they face and are overrun.

Both sides are portrayed as courageous and self-sacrificing, in contrast to Vietnamese movies about the war, which invariably portray the Americans as cruel murderers.

Vietnam has always depicted the war as a noble venture, and the scenes of soldiers and their families suffering conflicts with the official line.

The movie is based on the book ``We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young″ by the U.S. commander in the battle, retired Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore. Duong played commander Nguyen Huu An, who led the Vietnamese soldiers to victory.

Duong, one of Vietnam’s most popular actors, has appeared in numerous domestic movies about the war. He also played the role of a refugee camp translator in ``Green Dragon,″ a movie directed by Vietnamese American Tony Linh Bui about Vietnamese who fled the country after the end of the war and dreamed of living in the United States.

``Both movies distort the legitimate war history of our people and the humanity of the Vietnamese,″ army newspaper Quan Doi Nhan Dan (People’s Army) said in a front-page article Wednesday.

``By becoming a propagandist and henchman for ‘hostile forces’ and tarnishing the Vietnamese soldiers and people, Don Duong has sold his conscience cheaply and become a national traitor,″ it said.

The army newspaper demanded stern punishment for Duong.

Duong could not be reached for comment.

In an earlier interview with The Associated Press, Duong said he was surprised at the reaction and had decided not to play any more roles in foreign movies about the Vietnam War.

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