The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer

Park Chan-wook and Robert Downey Jr. team up in this riveting satirical spy thriller set at the end of the Vietnam War

The Very Best

8.0

TV Show

Canada, South Korea
English, Vietnamese
Comedy, Drama
2024
Alan Trong, Duy Nguyen, Fred Nguyen Khan

TLDR

Park Chan-wook, you’ve done it again.

What it's about

At the final days of the Vietnam War, a half-French, half-Vietnamese communist spy flees to the United States, where he continues his role as a mole reporting back to the Viet Cong.

The take

After the only war the Americans have lost, American post-Vietnam war portrayals tend to lean as patriotic revenge fantasies or romanticized disillusionment, but rarely do they portray the people caught in between. HBO’s The Sympathizer is an adaptation of the Pulitzer winning novel of the same name, and while it’s mainly an American production, Park Chan-wook and Robert Downey Jr.’s collaboration sticks to the Captain’s perspective, as the unnamed mole protagonist writes his confession years after from a jail in Vietnam. Chan-wook excellently mirrors his approach to Viet Thanh Nguyen’s agile storytelling, shifting time periods and languages the same way the Captain shifts perspectives, though Nguyen’s dry humor sometimes wavers when translated to the screen. Still, it’s certainly a well-crafted, ambitious depiction coming from a unique perspective.

What stands out

Casting Robert Downey Jr. to be four separate antagonists. There are moments that this decision takes much of the attention from the story, but it fits with the way the original novel was written as a response to Hollywood’s in-your-face treatment of how they portray the Vietnam War. And, of course, it’s just a great decision as Downey gets to flex his range, while taking a step back to the Captain’s perspective, and humorously turning the tables on the “all Asians look the same” stereotype.

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