Friday, December 22, 2017

Hiep Thi Le, Actress and Restaurateur, Dies of Cancer at 46

Actress, Hiep thi Le, who starred in Oliver Stone's third movie in his Vietnam war trilogy, passed away three days ago due to complications from stomach cancer.  Le is survived by her husband, two children and six siblings.

She was born in Da Nang in 1971 and came to America as boat people in 1979.  Her family settled in Oakland.  She went to UC Davis with a dream of going to medical school.

As a college student, she went to an open casting call in Northern California.  "...I don't know how I got here ... My cousin heard about these auditions for a movie, and I just went with a friend to see what it was about. They kept calling me back", she explained. 

Le was selected out of  16,000 Viet-Americans seen by casting scouts for Oliver Stone's  Heaven & Earth.  She was chosen for the starring role of portraying Le Ly Hayslip.   In the film, she played a woman who ages from 13 to 38, who became an abused housewife, mother and successful businesswoman in the United States.

Following Heaven & Earth, for which she received critical acclaim, Le would have roles in the movies Cruel Intentions and Green Dragon as well as minor acting roles  in television shows.

She also made a career as a chef and restaurateur.   She was the co-owner of  the popular Le Cellier, a French-Vitenamese restaurant in Marina Del Rey, just south of Venice Beach, California.

Bill Gates and " The Sympathizer"

This is taken from the blog of Bill Gates and his book review. Gates often says that he tries to read one book per week

A fresh take on the Vietnam War

I didn’t know what to expect the first time I visited Vietnam.
Although I’m a bit too young to have worried about my draft number, the Vietnam War cast a long shadow over my youth. Like many people of my generation, my view of the conflict was influenced by violent, American-centric movies like The Deer Hunter. So I was unsure when I found myself on a plane to Hanoi in 2006. Many of the people I was scheduled to meet with lived through the war. Would they resent me for being American?
The answer was, to my relief, a resounding no. Everyone I talked to was warm and welcoming. You would have never known our countries were at war just decades earlier. But the visit made me realize how little I had seen or read about the Vietnamese perspective on the war.
In the years since that trip, I’ve tried to learn more about the Vietnamese experience. Most recently, I picked up The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. I don’t usually reach for historical fiction, but when a good friend recommended it, I picked up a copy—and I’m glad I did.
The Sympathizer’s narrator—we never learn his name—is a communist double agent embedded with the South Vietnamese Army and their American allies. After he’s air-lifted out of the country during the fall of Saigon, he ends up in California spying on his fellow refugees and sending reports written in invisible ink to his handler back in Vietnam.
The story we’re reading is the narrator’s confession, which he is forced to write while held in a North Vietnamese reeducation camp. Much to the chagrin of the camp’s commandant, this confession makes it clear that the narrator is not a true believer in their cause. Instead, he “sympathizes” with people on both sides of the conflict.
For a novel that’s been met with such commercial success and critical acclaim (it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction last year, and Nguyen recently received a MacArthur genius grant), it is surprisingly bleak. Nguyen doesn’t shy away from how traumatic the Vietnam War was for everyone involved. Nor does he pass judgment about where his narrator’s loyalties should lie. Most war stories are clear about which side you should root for—The Sympathizer doesn’t let the reader off the hook so easily.    
More than 40 years later, many Americans still grapple with the big questions surrounding the Vietnam War: should we have gotten involved? Did our political and military leaders know what they were doing? Did they understand what the human cost of the war would be? (If you’re interested in reading more about this debate, I recommend H.R. McMaster’s excellent book Dereliction of Duty.)
Nguyen largely ignores these questions and instead tackles the role of individual morality in a time of war. The narrator commits horrible acts on behalf of the North Vietnamese government he serves and the refugee community he’s spying on. He plays both sides to survive. In the end, his lack of conviction makes him the most immoral character of all.
Despite how dark it is, The Sympathizer is still a fast-paced, entertaining read. I liked one particularly memorable section where the protagonist meets a famous Hollywood director and becomes a consultant for the Vietnam War epic he’s working on called The Hamlet. His attempts to bring the Vietnamese perspective into the film are thwarted at every turn by the director, who eventually grows so sick of the narrator that he may have tried to kill him with a stunt explosion gone wrong (the book doesn’t make it clear whether he did or not). If you’re a movie buff, you’ll notice that The Hamlet bears more than a passing resemblance to Apocalypse Now.
In an interview with NPR last year, Nguyen shared the story of the first time he saw Francis Ford Coppola’s classic film. He described watching a scene where American soldiers kill Vietnamese people as “the symbolic moment of my understanding that this was our place in an American war, that the Vietnam War was an American war from the American perspective and that, eventually, I would have to do something about that.” The Sympathizer offers a much-needed Vietnamese perspective on the war. I’m glad that it’s experienced such mainstream success, and I hope to read more books like it in the future.