The Abandoned Field: Free Fire Zone (1979)

The film takes place within the perimeter of an empty field called Dong Thap Muoi (Plain of Reeds), an inland wetland in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. The main characters Ba Do, his wife, and their infant son live in a small shack in the middle of the water. They are assigned the task of keeping the communication line for the Viet Cong. The director focused on the couple’s daily life that involved rice farming, raising children, and catching fish. These activities are interwoven with the scene of the American soldiers raiding the watery field where the guerilla soldiers were operating. When Ba Do is killed by gunfire from an American helicopter, his wife chases after the helicopter and shots it down to the ground.

The Abandoned Field portrays the pure beauty of nature in the South, as in the opening scene, with Ba Do and his wife singing a traditional folk song in a duet. This scene paints a picture of typical daily life for Dong Thap Muoi farmers living on the river. This singing tradition, hát hò, is a very well-known representation of Southern culture.[1]Music plays a significant role in this film. Southern folk music in this opening scene pinpointed the story’s geographical location while illuminating the rich and distinctive culture in different regions of Vietnam. Throughout the film, the viewer hears the soundtrack music, composed by celebrated songwriter Trinh Cong Son, whose music is very well-known in Vietnam. The collaboration between director Nguyen Hong Son and songwriter Trinh Cong Son contributed to the film’s success, making it the most famous war film in Vietnam.

It is interesting to note that at the end of The Abandoned Field, Ba Do was killed by gunfire from an American helicopter. To avenge her husband’s death, the wife shoots down the helicopter. At that point, the film cuts to a close-up of a photo falling out of the American pilot’s cockpit. The people in that photo are presumably the pilot’s wife and children. This scene makes the viewers feel empathy for American soldiers because they also were ordinary people with wives and children like Ba Do, but they had to leave their families and fight in a war. Women and family became the central theme at the end of the film, which depicts the realities of war, and how war destroys and separates families, and does not exclude anyone.

[1]Traditional folk music in Southern Vietnam is known as . According to Professor Tran Van Khe, is a genre of popular music in Vietnamese culture originating from lowland living practices, expressing the mood of the people on boats crossing the river. It is often a musical dialogue between two people, usually between a man and a woman, expressing their feelings for and/or attraction to each other while rowing their boats. Tuy-Phuong Tran Le, “Vietnamese Traditional Folklore Music– Southern Music,” Dot Chuoi Non (Vietnam), trans. author, January 16, 2015, accessed July 15, 2018.

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