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Author Topic: Watch The Sympathizer (2024) - HBO/Max Series Review And Mp4 Trailer  (Read 12275 times)

Offline Mr. Babatunde

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The Simpathizer is a new HBO original series that will be on HBO and stream on Max. It’s a satirical thriller with an espionage plot. It all plays out at the end of the Vietnam War and the years following.

There are 7 episodes in this limited series, and the cast is rather spectacular. Okay, I’m thinking specifically of Sandra Oh when I use the word "spectacular.”. But really, isn’t she just always great?! Hint: The question is rhetorical, as the answer is always a resounding yes.

I have not read Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, so I cannot speak to whether this adaptation follows the book. However, from what I’ve read about the book and seen in the series, it seems to follow the story fairly well.

The Sympathizer is clearly meant to be satirical, so even though it gets very brutal at times—we do begin at the end of a very deadly war, after all—it has many quirky moments.

This is an espionage thriller where we follow the struggles of the half-French, half-Vietnamese communist spy, The Captain (Hoa Xuande). He leaves Vietnam during the final days (moments, almost) of the Vietnam War.

From Vietnam, he goes to the US, where his new life as a refugee in Los Angeles begins. This is also where he finds out that his spying days are far from over. Having the main character be from Vietnam and then placed in Los Angeles does make for quite a lot of cross-cultural satire.

Not least, focus on the fascination with all things "oriental.”. Yes, it irks me whenever a character says "oriental,"  but it’s equally infuriating that no one seems to care whether an Asian person is from Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, or Japan. It’s all the same to them. Some things still haven’t changed!

The Robert Downey Jr. show
Let me preface the next by saying that I’ve always liked Robert Downey Jr., so I was happy to see him starring in  The Sympathizer series. Unfortunately, there is a tonal shift whenever one of his characters is on-screen.

And he does play a whopping four different characters, which I liked, as it plays to the whole “they all look the same”-notion that many people seem to have about people, not of their own race. And yes, white people are particularly bad at this.

My issue with these characters is that they are very over-the-top. Robert Downey Jr. is great, but it does turn into the Robert Downey Jr. show for me whenever he’s in a scene. This is an issue, as the topic is also quite serious.

So, while  The Sympathizer is clearly a very somber yet satirical look at how Hollywood has been obsessing over the Vietnam War for decades, this one has a nice change in the point of view. I mean, we’ve rarely heard anything about the experience from the point of view of anyone Vietnamese.

Whether they are still in Vietnam or immigrated to the US after the war,.

That changes with The Sympathizer, and yet, whenever a Robert Downey Jr. character shows up, we’re right back on the white man’s trail. While I feel that this is part of the point of his characters, it doesn’t quite nail its punchline. Not for me, anyway.

Fortunately, we also have Sandra Oh in a key role, and she always makes me happy. So do virtually all the Vietnamese characters. They are mostly refugees who had full and rich lives in Vietnam and now struggle to embrace their U.S. lives.

In part because they really do not feel welcome. And, largely, they aren’t welcome. I prefer it when the series focuses on them, but I recognize that the whole cross-culture satire requires both Vietnamese and white Americans to be at the center of many storylines.

Watch  The Sympathizer series on HBO and Max
 The Sympathizer co-showrunners are Park Chan-wook ( Oldboy,  Lady Vengeance) and Don McKellar. Of course, we’re big fans of Park Chan-wook here at Heaven of Horror, as we love his genre productions. Obviously, this HBO/Max production is something very different.

In fact, it’s so different that I cannot see or feel Park Chan-wook’s involvement whatsoever. Given that he directed three episodes, this is quite a shame. The remaining episodes are directed by Marc Munden (The Third Day) and Fernando Meirelles (Sugar), who directed three and one of the episodes, respectively.

Even though I found myself disappointed, I have to note that it had more to do with my own expectations than the quality of this series.

Also, I did appreciate seeing a post-Vietnam War world from the POV of the Vietnamese. We see a world divided by race, ideology, and culture, but not from the side of US veterans, as has often been the case. Check it out for yourself and see if it works for you—at the very least, Sandra Oh will!

THE SYMPATHIZER debuts on Sunday, April 14, 2024. It’s on HBO at 9:00–10:00 p.m. ET/PT and will be available to stream on Max.



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