My Dad and Clint Eastwood, New Yorker Article on Eastwood

by Jimmy on March 15, 2010

"Eastwood in "For a Few Dollars More" (1965), one of the three Westerns that he made with Sergio Leone. As the Man With No Name, Eastwood established his early character as an angry enforcer of order defined not by law but by primal notions of revenge and justice." For my dad and many other Americans, the simple world that these early Eastwood movies created was their ideal place in time.

My foreward to the New Yorker story: Just as the caption alludes, Clint Eastwood was more figurine than actual person in the first dozen or so movies in which he starred.  Growing up, my dad, Tri Nguyen, would rent any new Eastwood movie (they were all new to him at one point since my dad was a Vietnamese immigrant to the U.S. in 1975) and we would watch them together as a family.  I still have memories of my mom loudly asking plot questions over the tense music right as something important was about to be said.  We would respond in unison, “Hold on.”  God bless her heart, my mom has kept this habit up until this very day.  My dad would regularly supplement Eastwood’s unwavering righteousness and Oak-strong sense of justice with healthy doses of Charles Bronson movies and episodes of Colombo.  For me, these movies and shows were entertaining, but were easily forgotten after a few minutes of running around outside.  However, for my dad I think it offered a small amount of catharsis for a Vietnam Vet who never expressed a variety of emotions beyond the basic.  In the Vietnam War (or American War as they call it in Vietnam), my dad was a helicopter pilot for the South Vietnamese Army.  He flew the legendary UH-1 “Huey” helicopter, transporting soldiers and equipment to and from war zones and once and a while getting to level entire tracts of jungle with rockets.

My dad was literally thrown into the war at the age most of us were just figuring out how to whisper sweet nothings into a young lady’s ear without giggling.  Being a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War was probably one notch under frontline soldier in the North Vietnamese Army and innocent Laotian villager on the “Most Likely to Die in this War” scale.  Indeed my dad was shot down twice during the war.  On the second occasion of these catastrophes, everyone in my dad’s helicopter died but him.  I never learned of these stories growing up as a kid, but I knew that they existed in the most abstract sense of a child’s mind.  On those hot summer days,  I could plainly see the fading purple burn scars pasted across my dad’s shirtless back and sides like giant bubbling bacon strips.  Throughtout his life, he has never talked much to anyone about the war until just a couple of years ago.  Maybe he never talked about it much when I was a kid because he wanted to forget.  Maybe it was because I never asked.  Or maybe it was because he wouldn’t talk to me about the war until I was able to do 50 push-ups in a row.  A feat I accomplished oddly enough right around the time he started opening up about the war. 

All jokes aside, I think my dad was drawn to those early Eastwood movies because it took him to a place that was of the right tint.  That is it was a sweet black and white.  It was still a violent place, but the lines were clearly drawn.  There was a right side that always came out on top and a bad side that always died.  Contrast this world with the chaotic environment into which my dad was thrown during the Vietnam War, where the innocent and guilty bathed in the same pool of blood.  Okay, these last few melodramatic lines and my grasping for meaning might be just that, but I sense that these are the very reasons why so many people of my dad’s generation were and are still so drawn to these movies.  My dad’s generation spent their early years in relative calm then that all changed right as they were beginning to become men.  All of a sudden they were transported into an environment of great upheaval when the entire world seemingly teetered on the outcomes of dozens of revolutions, which seemed to pop up everywhere at once like freckles from the unfiltered Sun.  Simply put, the movies transported my dad and the other older, tired souls of this waning era back to a time when they could be the young righteous hero doing the right thing.

As I grew older, my dad moved on to Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, which basically achieved the same formula.  However, gradually as action movies changed to fit the ever complex world and fast-paced minds of teenagers and when Seagal started starring in movies with rappers, my dad called it quits.  He just didn’t rent American action movies anymore.  Nowadays, he just watches Vietnamese music shows (Paris by Night) or Vietnamese dubbed Chinese soap operas with my mom (of course, some of those Chinese soap operas do involve martial arts).  Maybe just as these action movies were changing, my dad had finally come to grips with what he did and saw in the Vietnam War.  He had gone through a form of Eastwood therapy for the first two decades after the Vietnam War.  And for this, I owe gratitude to the one and only Mr. Clint Eastwood because my dad and I have the best relationship know than we ever had.

New Yorker article on Clint Eastwood – “Out of the West”

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