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Film / Heaven & Earth

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Released in 1993, Heaven & Earth is Oliver Stone's third film about The Vietnam War, following Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July. These three films are often said to form a "trilogy", although they merely share subject matter and do not take place in a shared continuity.

This film is notable for telling the story of the war from the Vietnamese perspective, a viewpoint which Stone had been criticized for excluding in his two previous Vietnam films. The movie is Very Loosely Based on a True Story, being adapted from the memoirs of Le Ly Hayslip, a Vietnamese peasant girl who married an American soldier and became a humanitarian in the U.S. It stars Tommy Lee Jones, Joan Chen, Haing S. Ngor, and Hiep Thi Le.

Not to be confused with the Hong Kong film Tian Di, which is retitled Heaven and Earth in foreign releases.

This work features examples of:

  • All Asians Wear Conical Straw Hats: As you'd expect of a movie set in Vietnam during the war, these hats are worn by many people, including our heroine at several points.
  • All Men Are Perverts: In the first half of the movie, practically every male character (whether American or Vietnamese) wants to get into Le Ly's pants, whether she wants it or not.
  • Break the Cutie: The whole plot, especially in the first half of the movie, is about Le Ly going through one terrible situation after another
  • The Cameo: The real Le Ly Hayslip appears in a bit part. She's the woman selling jewelry in one of the U.S. scenes.
  • Composite Character: Steve Butler is a combination of the two American husbands Le Ly had in real life.
  • Domestic Abuse: While things are nice for a while after they return to America, eventually Steve becomes unpredictably angry and violent, at one point aiming a gun at the back of Le Ly's head.
  • Eagleland: Most of the American soldiers in Vietnam are very much Flavor 2. When Le Ly eventually comes to the United States, it's initially portrayed as Flavor 1, but it later turns out that Flavor 2 is simply lurking under the surface.
  • Evil Versus Evil: In regards to their cruelty in the war, the Viet Cong, the South Vietnamese government, and the Americans aren't so different.
  • Occupiers Out of Our Country: The Americans, of course. Who are, as the film points out, merely the latest in a series of occupiers, following the Chinese, the Japanese, and the French. We actually see the end of French rule near the beginning of the film, when Le Ly is still a child.
  • Rape as Drama: Le Ly is raped by the Viet Cong when they suspect her of spying for the South.
  • Rule of Drama
  • Semper Fi: Averted mercilessly. The Marines are portrayed in very unglamorous way as bunch of gung-ho grunts with nothing elite or special about them, while the Vietnamese mock them as crybabies that can't do anything without shoes and sunglasses.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Steve Butler, eventually leading to his suicide.
  • Translation Convention: When the Vietnamese characters are talking to Americans, they speak in pidgin English. When they're talking amongst themselves, presumably speaking Vietnamese in-universe, it's rendered as normal English.
  • War Is Hell: Oh, yes. The film makes sure to portray each side of the conflict as utterly evil and conducting one war crime after another, so the audience has nobody but Le Ly to root for.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The Viet Cong, of course. The people in Le Ly's village are very supportive of the V.C. and her brothers go off to fight for them. Ultimately, however, the V.C. are shown to be just as murderous and despicable as their American enemies.