The first fifteen minutes of this odd little Russian/Vietnamese made movie -- which I found under the title COORDINATES OF DEATH -- are riveting. A group of North Vietnamese Army cadre making their way down the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War are attacked from the air by American Huey helicopter gunships. It's almost a perfect reverse of the exhilaration of the rightfully famous helicopter attack sequence from APOCALYPSE NOW ... Heavy casualties are inflicted on the NVA group, stuff gets blowed up real, real good, women and children and old men are killed along with the heroic NVA troopers, all of it witnessed by an American singer tagging along who traveled to North Vietnam to see the war first-hand from the side of the communists, and give the film a running plot device.
We are then treated to a My Lai Massacre inspired sequence by a group of American & South Vietnamese troops -- wearing Soviet Russian camouflage uniforms, D'oh! -- as they recklessly careen into a village in their jeeps like the Bad Guy Gang from a cheap western and wantonly decimate the population in a cringe-inducing display of violence that makes the similar scene shown in PLATOON seem gentle by comparison. This is complete with inappropriately amusing footage of another Yankee helicopter gunship crew guzzling beer and mowing down anything that moves with their miniguns and heavy caliber automatic weapons. So far so good: I had always wondered how Charlie would have thought about being blown off the face of this earth, and it turns out they didn't like it too much.
Then the plot kicks in. Young NVA Sapper Fong is returning from the Soviet Union on a Russian freighter which violates an American Navy enforced embargo of Haiphong Harbor. The freighter is ordered to stop and allow an inspection of their cargo but the Russian captain says damn the torpedoes, full ahead. The ship is attacked & sunk by U.S. Navy jets as it enters North Vietnamese waters, who blow up the town on shore for good measure as well. Meanwhile, heroic North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gunners manage to shoot down what appears to be half of the U.S. jets carrying out the raid, the crashes of which are very effectively staged: If that's model work it's some of the best I have ever seen.
Wouldn't you know it but Sapper Fong's housing complex is destroyed in the raid as well, killing his child and providing the first of several tearful, heartfelt scenes of crying and hugging and consoling, while ominous music drones on in the soundtrack. North Vietnamese leaders decide that the bombing must be retaliated for and the sapper officer along with a group of other idiots are sent out in explosives rigged boats to assault a target that is never shown. Meanwhile, the women & childrenfolk watch helplessly from the shore, crying out in disdain as the sapper boat squad is blown off the water. Sapper Fong's boat is of course not hit because by now he and his Russian sailor buddy -- along with the American singer -- are the stars of the film and if his boat had been blown up the movie would have been over.
The film then changes gears to examining the fates of a group of surprisingly well fed American POWs who are brought before a mockingly gleeful bunch of international journalists for a press conference, where each of them spills their guts and speaks of the regret they have for allowing themselves to have gotten involved in the war in the first place. These sentiments are portrayed as happening naturally with no coercion at all (and in clear violation of the Geneva Accords' commandments on the treatment of POWs, D'oh!), and the orgy of fictionalized American regret is capped off when the young singer touring North Vietnam picks up her guitar to sing a mournful folk ballad backed by a slide show of destruction & death wreaked upon the North Vietnamese people by the U.S. military.
It was at this point that I switched the movie off so I could think and read about it a bit more in an attempt to understand exactly what we are looking at. The film is an impressively budgeted collaboration between Vietnamese and Russian filmmakers from 1985 at the height of the Cold War. These were not independent artists but official employees of both communist countries who were essentially making a propaganda piece extolling the virtues of Vietnamese communism and their Russian allies. Not that there is anything wrong with that, just check out John Wayne's THE GREEN BERETS for an American made production extolling the virtues of our armed forces in Vietnam as officially sanctioned by the U.S. government. I would even go so far as to say that TARGETS OF DEATH is probably the more artful and convincingly made of the two films, and some of the battle footage has a rugged authenticity to it that is quite compelling.
So it's not a "bad" film, but at the same time it's propaganda, with a sort of gratuitous overkill to it that is problematic. The beer guzzling helicopter gunners are actually so over the top that they border on a parody; They become the film's Greek Chorus, ushering in the various atrocity segments. But the human element of the movie is way overdone -- the whole production is an extended "War Is Hell" segment -- and like the John Wayne film there is an overkill level to the message that reeks of manipulation, and as such the highest score it can be awarded is a neutral rating. As long as one can keep that in mind it's worth seeing for devotees of Vietnam War flicks, and would make an ironic double bill with THE GREEN BERETS to say the least.
5/10: Available on a DVD release that can actually be found on Amazon.com when searched with the title TARGETS OF DEATH.
3 of 4 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?