Well, you'll work harder with a gun in your back
For a bowl of rice a day
Slave for soldiers 'til you starve
Then your head is skewered on a stake
Now you can go where people are one
Now you go where they get things done
What you need, my son
Where people dress in black
A holiday in Cambodia
Where you'll kiss ass or crack
Southeast Asia is a rich land of many cultures and nations. Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, The Phillipines and Indonesia (and Singapore and Timor Leste
And that's the thing: The West's cultural experience with Southeast Asia is usually limited to the leftovers of The Vietnam War
. In the minds of many people outside of the region, Southeast Asia (minus Thailand) is a land of steamy jungles, guerrilla warfare, and all sorts of violence and atrocities. Add vice for taste; affairs between American servicemen and native Vietnamese women are notorious, and it's not for nothing that Thailand has a reputation for sex tourism. Furthermore, it appears that Southeast Asia doesn't exist below the sixth parallel - one might get to see the Petronas Twin Towers
, but that's about it.
So, when a piece of media goes to Southeast Asia, it usually goes on a Holiday In Cambodia. The setting will either be little jungle villages with wooden huts or cities so seedy they leave marks on the screen. Vice will be both upheld and punished, with the main characters either being told "Me love you long time
" by a woman (very often a prostitute) who may or may not actually be a biological woman
, or being thrown in some hellhole of a prison
on drug charges. And someone, some time, is getting a gun in the face. Oh, and there may be elephants.
For those in the know, it becomes clear that the writers Miss Saigon
Compare East Indies
, which is a little further south.
Anime and Manga
- The Marvel Universe has the fictional country of Madripoor, a state so corrupt that a terrorist/assassin-for-hire served as its ruler. And then she was deposed by HYDRA, which means it's gone from one end of fresh hell to the other.
- The Vertigo miniseries Vertigo Pop! Bangkok centers around two American tourists who are fully exposed to the seedier sides of Thailand's sex tourism trade.
- You wouldn't expect a Disney comic to take place in such a locale, but in Carl Barks' "The Treasure of Marco Polo", (written in 1966), Scrooge McDuck's adventure in search of the eponymous treasure takes him to the war-torn, vaguely Vietnamese country of Unsteadystan.
- Buck Danny has the fictional countries of Viet-tan and Sarawak (the latter is in fact a province of Malaysia). The former is depicted in the midst of a civil war between a corrupt dictatorship and rebels backed up by evil mercenaries, and the latter is where the Mafia produces its heroin for worldwide distribution.
- In the prologue of Mass Foundations: A New Day, Eric and his family visited Bangkok, Thailand, then Angkor Wat in the prologue until Eric stumbled upon a strange artifact at the after-mentioned temple.
- The Killing Fields, obviously.
- The documentary S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine.
- Rithy Panh, the documentary's director, makes a cameo in a French film set in Cambodia, Holy Lola, specifically in order to provide a Real Life perspective on the nightmare that country went through within living memory.
- The James Bond feature The Man with the Golden Gun, where he travels to Thailand to question a possible associate of Scaramanga, the businessman Hai Fat.
- Air America depicts the secret operations conducted by the US in Laos during the Vietnam War, complete with rampant corruption, drug smuggling and gunrunning.
- The Beach. See Literature.
- Tropic Thunder is being shot in Vietnam, but when the director gets tired of the actors primadonna antics, he dumps them in the jungle. At one point the Only Sane Man deduces they've passed the border, being in Laos or Cambodia.
- Though curiously, the opium growers the actors encounter and are eventually captured by speak poorly accented Mandarin Chinese.
- This becomes a (hilarious) plot point: Kirk Lazarus is able to distract the gate guards long enough with increasingly crappier Chinese until they become suspicious of him.
- The Villain Protagonist of American Gangster gets his drugs from Vietnam. The scenes there focus on the peasant villages with wooden huts and the general anarchy of the Vietnam War.
- Similarly, the Amsterdam Triad in the 80s film China White gets their heroin from guerillas in an unidentified Southeast Asian nation in exchange for rocket launchers.
- Brokedown Palace presents a somewhat more grim variant of the above scenario, with the two female leads thrown into a Thai women's prison with no chance for parole after a fling sneaks large amounts of heroin into one's luggage.
- Bangkok Hilton (the real prison associated with that nickname, where The Other Wiki claims that Death Row prisoners have their leg-chains welded together, is all-male)
- Holly is about an American in Cambodia who discovers the sordid world of child prostitution, and decides to rescue a 12-year-old Vietnamese girl from that grim fate.
- Bangkok Dangerous: Politics in Thailand involve hiring hit men to dispose of troublemaking politicians.
- Dien Bien Phu is a film about the eponymous battle that sealed the fate of French Indochina.
- Referenced in Three Seasons: An American veteran of the Vietnam War goes to Saigon in order to find the grown daughter he had with a local prostitute, and whom he left behind when he went back to the US.
- The Hangover Part II is set in Bangkok, which is portrayed exactly like this trope.
- Apocalypse Now is probably the Trope Codifier.
- Only God Forgives is probably the crappiest holiday in Thailand anyone's ever gone through.
- Wish You Were Here is about two young couples of Aussies who decides to go visiting, and partying, in Sihanoukville in Cambodia. They get into more and more trouble.
- The Quiet American sticks to the cities of Vietnam, but focuses on the upcoming turmoil that will lead to the Vietnam War. Notably, it was actually written before the Vietnam War began, which can lead to a good deal of Harsher in Hindsight for modern readers.
- Bangkok 8 is centered on Bangkok's red light district, and the sequels follow Thai detective Sonchai Jitleecheep as he explores the other seedy aspects of Bangkok living.
- Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason has a scene where Bridget, on vacation in Thailand, is unknowingly made into a drug mule by a fling of one of her friends and ends up in your average Thai prison hellhole.
- The Beach, beginning with a seedy Bangkok hotel. Interestingly, the tourist industry around the Phi Phi Islands, where the bulk of the movie adaptation was filmed, seems quite proud of the movie and it is still possible to visit remnants of the set.
- Nayan Chanda's book Brother Enemy is focused on the international relations of Cambodia, Vietnam, and China after the fall of Saigon up to 1986.
- Jack from LOST holidays in Thailand in one of his flashbacks. Apparently, in Lost, Thailand is made entirely of naive 8-year-old boys and psychic tattooists. Incidentally, they manage to split the difference on the surroundings: he gets a quiet jungle hut... right in the middle of a seedy city.
- Odd, given the more realistic portrayal of Seoul in the Sun and Jin episodes.
- Since Seoul isn't in Southeast Asia, it actually serves to solidify that this trope is in full effect, and is not just a part of larger Artistic License - Geography issues.
- No Reservations and its predicessor A Cook's Tour beat Top Gear to the punch by some years. Tony loves this part of the world (except Cambodia was kinda lame), has been to both cities and the jungle and wants to live in Vietnam. For chefs in general, Southeast Asia is a mind-blowing place to visit (for those of us stuck elsewhere, find a good pho resturant, trust me).
- Exception: When the Top Gear boys went motorcycling through Vietnam for the 2008 Christmas special they acknowledged it would be a disservice to history not to refer to The Vietnam War and its legacy, but at the same time presented the country as so much more than "that place where a war happened".
- Although not shown in the series, Daisy of Spaced goes on a holiday in Vietnam. We only see vague photo snaps. She later gets caught out by a dole interviewer when she wears her souvenir T-shirt to sign on (he just happens to speak Vietnamese).
- Serangoon Road depicts Singapore in the mid-1960s, before it became a wealthy city-state, and had its share of seedy dives, unsafe back alleys, intercommunal violence and the odd terrorist bombing.
- The Dead Kennedys song "Holiday in Cambodia" uses this trope for satirical contrast, with a pretentious, insensitive Hipster liberal stereotype going on vacation and getting captured by Pol Pot's regime.
- Kim Wilde's Cambodia is about a pilot who returns from Cambodia with a Thousand-Yard Stare. He doesn't return from his next mission.
- Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days follows this trope in spirit, being centered entirely around the exploits of the titular duo as they attempt to oversee an arms deal in the most crime-ridden part of Shanghai, China before being chased through ever-seedier back alleys by just about every dude in the city with a gun (and one dude with a box cutter).
- In Wasted Youth, Mr. Stouffer breaks down into a "Vietnam flashback" while giving a speech, during which time he reveals that he slept with a transvestite while on vacation in Vietnam.
- The training level of Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation takes place in Angkor Wat. In the backstory of the Crystal Dynamics trilogy, Richard Croft was killed by Natla in Cambodia.
- Just Cause 2's Panau surely fits the definition.
- King of the Hill has a Laotian character, Kahn, as the neighbors of the main characters. The show mostly averts this trope, until the episode where another well-to-do Laotian convinces Kahn that his life is meaningless because he embraces American culture, and convinces him to join a Laotian resistance force that will one day go back to free their brethren.
- That suggests Kahn is Hmong, with a clearly Laotian family name. Huh.