Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket.

Vietnam War occurred between 1959 to 1975. It was a war of ideology, between the communist North Vietnam as well as Laos and Cambodia, and the government of South Vietnam, which was supported largely by the US and nations who were members of The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). The war ended after the complete withdrawal of the American forces by 1975 due to mounting casualties and pressure from within, with victory to the communist North. The estimated human casualties, either direct or otherwise, were 3 to 4 million Vietnamese from both sides, 1.5 to 2 million Laotians and Cambodians, and 58,000 American soldiers. Large scale atrocities occurred and were committed by both forces. Indirectly, it helped the Khmer Rouge to topple the Cambodian government and begun its genocide regime on its own population. The outcome of the war derailed the US Army's confidence, largely because of victories in WW2 and the Korean War, and remained bitter about the experiences during those period. More importantly, it showed that political will, apart from military might, remains important in any conflict.
As such, the Vietnam War was a popular subject in movies. The four main personal favourites of mine are The Deer Hunter (1978), Apocalypse Now (1979), Platoon (1986) and Full Metal Jacket (1987). These movies presented the war, albeit with a degree of drama, in its full, gritty, horrific details and the negative psychological impact on the US soldiers.
Full Metal Jacket is directed by the famous Stanley Kubrick (1928 – 1999), based on the novel The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford. The title refers to the full metal jacket bullet type of ammunition used by infantry riflemen. Lightly narrated by Joker (Matthew Modine), the film follows a squad of U.S. Marines from their basic training through their participation in the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. It is banned in Vietnam. Divided into two parts, the movie begins with the US Marine Corps recruits being trained at Parris Island. It is here where Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is introduced, their drill instructor from hell. Hartman, played to perfection by R. Lee Ermey (himself a former marine), is perhaps one of the most memorable character ever presented on screen. Possessing leather lung and explicit lace line of insults (written by Ermey himself), Hartman is basically THE drill inspector a recruit wishes he would never meet. I personally think Ermey basically carried the entire first part on his shoulder. It is unfortunate that Hartman "over-enthusiasm" in preparing the recruits into becoming an "instrument of death" would result in one of the recruits, Leonard Lawrence aka Gomer Pyle (Vincent D'Onofrio) going loco which kills them both. In the second part, the recruits have graduated from the Island and are now in Da Nang. Papillon Soo Soo gives a one off memorable role as the "Da Nang Hooker", a scantily clad prostitute appearing for less than 5 minutes but yet influenced the 90s notorious rap group 2 Live Crew to name one of their famous songs after her line in the movie. Joker is now a sergeant and marine combat correspondent. He and a photographer, Rafter Man (Kevyn Major Howard), are ordered to Huế city after the Tet Offensive where he meets an old boot camp mate, Cowboy (Arliss Howard) and members of the Lusthog squad whom he follows after the Battle Of Huế. On their way there, they met an insane door machine gunner (Tim Colceri) who simply shoots at every Vietnamese he sees. "Ain't war hell?" he says. Unlike most Vietnam War movies which took place in a tropical jungle, Kubrick chose to film his side of the story within the bombed out urban setting, which raised the grittiness of the entire movie. The city is presented like a post apocalyptic surrounding, eerily lighted by pockets of flame. After an intense battle with a teenage female sniper who killed two squad members as well as Cowboy, Joker confronts and was nearly killed by her until a timely intervention by Rafter Man. While Rafter Man jubilantly celebrates his first confirmed kill, Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin), a nihilistic M-60 gunner, engages Joker into a debate as to whether to leave the mortally wounded sniper there and then or carry out a mercy killing. In the end, Animal Mother will allow mercy killing only if Joker does it because he has the least combat experience. Joker did and the movie ended as the remaining squad marches off into the night. One interesting trivia is that LMF, the now defunct notorious HK rap group sampled one of the line from the end scene which goes like, "Hardcore man...F***ing hardcore". Kubrick once said that the movie is "neither anti war or pro war," held "no moral or political position," and was primarily concerned with "the way things are."

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