Made in Thailand (final part)
by Brian S.
The conflict in Vietnam is forever etched in our consciousness as a war that took place in dense rain forests, flooded rice paddies and rural villages. Because of its similar geography, Thailand has been Hollywood’s favourite stand-in for Vietnam. America’s lengthy involvement in Vietnam has been well documented on film, and whenever you see a soldier or Marine ‘humping a ruck’ through triple canopy jungle on the silver screen, the odds are pretty good that the movie was made in Thailand.
The Deer Hunter (1978), starring Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken was the first feature film depicting the Vietnam War to be shot in Thailand. The Mississippi Queen Bar on Patpong Road in Bangkok, doubled for a G.I. bar on Tu Do Street in Saigon. Sai Yok, along the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi served as the riverside POW camp. The film shows how three friends’ lives were affected by the unpopular war, with the sadistic game of Russian roulette being a recurring theme.The Thai casting director had some trouble finding a Thai actor to play the POW camp guard who organized the Russian roulette games. The first actor was unable to slap Robert DeNiro in the face. That problem was solved when a Thai actor who had a particular dislike for Americans was hired!
The Killing Fields (1984), adapted from Sydney Schanberg’s book, The Life and Death of Dith Pran, depicts the holocaust perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Hua Hin’s old Railway Hotel, which today is known as the Sofitel Central Hotel was used to impersonate a similar edifice in Cambodia, and the Phuter Government House in Phuket was pressed into service as the French Embassy in Phnom Penh. Exterior shooting also took place in Patpong in Bangkok and on Bang Tao Beach near Phuket.
Hollywood’s first Vietnam War comedy was Good Morning Vietnam (1987). Robin Williams starred as the irreverent Armed Forces Radio Service disc jockey, airman first-class Adrian Cronauer, and the popular Thai actress Jintara Sukapat played the Vietnamese girl whom he befriended. Production designer’s successfully transformed Bangkok’s Rajdamnern Avenue and Patpong Road into old Saigon. The beaches of Phuket were also used as a backdrop.
Shot in Phang Nga Bay, and Kanchanaburi province, Casualties of War (1989) is the true story of an atrocity committed during the Vietnam War. It tells the tale of five G.I.s who are sent out to patrol a village in the Central Highlands. Frustrated because a good buddy had been killed by a sniper, and because their leave time had been cut short, the sergeant in charge (Sean Penn) orders the squad to kidnap a young Vietnamese woman. All but one of the men (Michael J. Fox) gang rape and murder the woman, causing the squad to turn against Fox. In reality, a military court martial sentenced the three soldiers who committed the crime to eight, ten, and fifteen years of hard labor, and one received a life sentence. However, one was acquitted on appeal, another had his sentence reduced to twenty-two months, and two were released after serving only eight years.
(1990) features Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. as cocky pilots flying for the CIA’s secret airline out of Laos during the Vietnam War. The film represents business as usual for the CIA, with a plot that revolves around secrecy, greed, corruption, gun running, drug smuggling and a nosey politician. Mae Hong Son province stood in for Laos, and a dramatic scene depicting an elephant being airlifted over a temple took place near Chang Khom Lake.
Heaven and Earth (1993), the final film in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War trilogy, and the only one that had scenes shot in Thailand, traces the conflict through the eyes of a Vietnamese woman. The film illustrates how her life was drastically altered when Communist forces came to her village to fight the French and then the Americans. In the film she is captured and tortured by South Vietnamese troops, raped by the Viet Cong, impregnated and dumped by her employer, married by an American soldier played by Tommy Lee Jones, and eventually settled in the U.S. The film was shot in Vietnam and at Phang Nga Bay.
The Disney film, Operation Dumbo Drop (1995) is based on a true story surrounding elephant air dropping during the Vietnam War. In the movie, Green Berets portrayed by Danny Glover and Ray Liotta are ordered to transport an elephant to a remote village in exchange for the villagers help in monitoring the local Viet Cong. Principle filming took place in the provinces of Mae Hong Son, Kanchanaburi, Chiang Mai, and Lopburi. Pathet Thai, the elephant used in the film, was born in Thailand and raised in the U.S.
Filmed on location in Thailand, Rescue Dawn (2007) is the true story of a U.S. Navy pilot who escaped from a Pathet Lao POW camp after being shot down while on a secret mission over Laos. After being beaten and imprisoned, a pair of Americans, played by Christian Bale and Steve Zahn, manage to escape through the Lao jungle into Thailand. Despite the fact the production was shut down and the producer was arrested by Thai authorities for failing to pay $500,000 in “owed taxes”, the film was considered a critical triumph.
The third installment in Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo series, aptly titled Rambo III (1988) finds the ex-special forces soldier seeking enlightenment in a Thai monastery. However, he is lured away by his trusted colonel to help the Mujahideen rebels in Afghanistan. Bangkok and the Buddhist temple, Wat Buddhaphat in Chiang Mai, were featured prominently in the movie, while Israel served as Afghanistan. Note: the second Rambo movie, Rambo First Blood Part II (1985) was not filmed in Thailand, it was shot entirely in Mexico.
In Men of War (1994), Swedish-born actor Dolph Lundgren plays a down and out mercenary hired to separate a hidden treasure from the inhabitants of a tropical island in the Far East. Once there, he decides to help the island’s occupants. Together they face off against another mercenary who decided the treasure belongs to him. Thai locations include Bangkok, Ao Nang Beach and Khao Phanom Bencha National Park in Krabi and Khuean Si Nakarin National Park in Kanchanaburi.
In Rambo IV (2008), Rambo is eking out a simple existence in rural Thailand. He is reluctantly persuaded to ferry a group of Christian missionaries into war-torn Burma. After reaching their destination, the missionaries are captured by the brutal Burmese military regime. Not trusting the band of mercenaries hired by the church to rescue them, Rambo tags along to ensure their safety, and subsequently turns into a one-man killing machine. Filming took place along the Ping River in Chiang Mai.