The Iron Triangle (1989)




Director:      Eric Weston.

Starring:     Beau Bridges (Capt. Keene),   Haing S. Ngor (Cpt. Tuong, NVA),  Liem Whatley (Ho),  Johnny Hallyday (Jacques),  Jim Ishida (Khoi),  Ping Wu (Pham),  Jack Ong (Shen),  Sophie Trang (Lai),  Arsenio 'Sonny' Trinidad (Thuy),  Iilana B'tiste (Khan Li),  Bobby McGee (Joop),  Richard Weygint (Swan),  Allan Moore (Murphy),  Joe Seely (Grover)François Chau (Capt. Duc, ARVN),  Glen Chin (Chau).

American army officer learns respect for a young Viet Cong soldier


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

On the map the Triangle is set on one of its sides. The intersection of the right arm and the base is in the south. The right arm goes north to the apex. The apex of the Iron Triangle is at the village of Ben Cat just east of the Tinh River. The right arm of the Triangle went a little west of south down to the village of Ben Co a little south of the Saigon River. The base of the Triangle goes from Ben Co northwest to the Village of Ben Suc (now demolished). From Ben Suc the left arm of the Triangle heads east to the apex at Ben Cat.

Only two small parts of the Tinh River are in the Triangle on the northeast. A long stretch of the Saigon River goes through the Triangle on the northwest corner of the triangle. Furthermore, a little piece of the Saigon River crosses the triangle just above the village of Ben Co.

The Iron Triangle was between partly between the Saigon River on the west and the Tinh River on the east. It is located bout 25 miles (40 km) north of Saigon. The southern apex of the "triangle" was seven miles (11 km) from Phu Cong, the capital of Binh Duong Province.

The Triangle was a big pro-communist area and that why the Americans fought for control of the area. And, of course, the communists fought hard to hold the territory.


The Vietnam War. The story teller is Captain Keene of the American Army. His opening statement is: "Looks like paradise, doesn't it? A place where my brother Jim might build condos. But this jungle was the bloodiest corner on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. They call it the Iron Triangle."

"Headquarters expected a heavy enemy buildup in this sector. I had to take a company in to recon the area. I spoke Vietnamese so I guess they thought I could communicate with the people. They were wrong. "

A helicopter swoops over a village and tells Captain Keene that there is no sign of any hostile. The only action is that a couple of the houses are burning.

Keene decides to go into the village and check it out. Two of the soldiers are often put on point (at the front of the line of the advancing troops). One is a very young white soldier named Swan. The older one is a black soldier named Murphy.

The captain narrates: "When I first got to Nam I used to worry about getting all of my men home alive. After a while, I started to worry if I'd get any of them back."

As the Amerians move toward the village a machine gun opens up on them from a house window. One of the men is hit multiple times and goes down. Another man steps on a Punji stick and is badly injured. They finally silence the machine gun nest when a soldier uses a bazooka on the house. Then the helicopter fires a rocket into another house and explodes it to pieces.

The young man Swan is foolhardy as he rushes into a hut that is still being fired upon by his own soldiers. Murphy tells the men to stop firing. Swan comes out with a baby in his arms and give the child to Murphy to deal with. Murphy is not at all pleased with Swan's recklessness.

The troops find a Viet Cong soldier hiding in a hole under a large chicken cage. They will interrogate the enemy trooper later.

Murphy and Swan are on point. The guys are talking too much along the path they are following. A Viet Cong soldier is tracking them. After they pass a certain point the enemy soldier covers up the trail with foliage so the other Americans will not find them in time.

Swan is the one who feels worried./ He has a bad feeling about his surroundings. Murphy tells him to be cool and then Murphy is hit by a bullet and goes down. A second bullet finishes him off. Swan is reckless in his random shooting and receives a mortal wound.

The Viet Cong soldier is young too, like Swan. He takes Chiclets from Swan. He then picks up the Thompson machine gun from Murphy and the M-16 from Swan. He also gets their ammunition.

Capt. Keene narrates that he would find out later that the Viet Cong soldier was only 17 years old and whose name is Ho. The captain found the soldier's diary later. He says: "But soon this crazy war would bring us together." "This is our story."

Ho returns to his encampment. His friend grabs the Thompson machine gun and starts looking it over. He says he's never seen a gun like this. An older man, a bit of a bully named Khoi, sees the weapon and virtually grabs it away from Ho's friend. He then tells Ho: "I'll take it." Ho grabs the weapon and the two men try to pull the weapon away the other. Ho wins and the bully says that Col. Tuong (of the NVA) will settle this matter.

They crawl through the tunnels to get to Tuong. Khoi presents his case that he is a communist party official and he can make good use of the weapon Ho brought in. "Ho regards it as his personal trophy and refuses to give it to me." Tuong sides with Ho, because Khoi is busy with party duties, while Ho fights daily on the front lines.

Khoi is very bitter about this. He tells his superior officer that he will appeal his decision to party officials up north. This really makes Tuong furious and he almost dares Khoi to go ahead and report him. As a sort of revenge, Tuong gives Khoi and assignment to be shared with Ho. There is a corrupt official named Chau that will be easily recognized because he is fat.

Khoi and Ho wait for a bus to show up. Khoi riddles the radiator with the Thompson and the bus stops. He goes on the bus and easily finds the official. The man is pulled off the bus. He starts begging for his life. While the man prays, Khoi shoots the fellow in the head with the guy's own pistol.

A pretty woman named Khan Li comes out to Captain Keene's company. Keene says: "She dealt in propaganda and got a lot of people killed." Her body guard was a Frenchman known as Jacques. The American soldiers whoop and holler when they see her.

A soldier runs over to Captain Keene to says that the South Vietnamese soldiers are torturing the captain's prisoners of war. The captain immediately hurries over to the area and tells Captain Duc (ARVN) to stop torturing his prisoners. Duc's men are dunking the heads of the people he is interrogating into a barrel of water and he just shot in the head one of the uncooperative prisoners.

The ARVN captain says this is Vietnam and he takes charge of the prisoners. The captain says in worse language that he will blow the hell out of the captain. The two sides hold their guns on the other side.

Duc gives in, but first he shoots the man currently at the barrel in the head. He tells Keene that he did it so his men would respect him.

The Frenchman watched the showdown and now he comes over to introduce himself to Keene. He says he was with the Foreign Legion but now serves as Khan Li's body guard. Jacques adds that the last time he was in Vietnam he was at the battle of Dien Bien Phu (a knockout defeat of the French colonial forces in Vietnam). The Frenchmen gives Keene some very unwanted advice. He says let Duc and his side kill the enemy on the communist side. In other words, ignore these murders of each other by both Vietnamese sides. Keene absolutely rejects the advice.

Khoi and Ho return to the encampment. Ho's friend greets them with the news that they are moving out in the morning toward their target village. Khoi gets angry and says it's time that they stopped running and fight the Americans.

Ho's friend Pham sees Ho chewing gum and he teasingly demands his share of the spoils of war. He gets some of the Chiclets.

The men watch as two women put on entertainment involving a Vietnamese vanquishing an American foe. After the show Khoi makes a big speech promoting the cause and himself. He also criticizes Ho for only following his own self-advancement. Ho gets up and does a good job of defending himself verbally. He's so good that the other soldiers roar their approval of Ho.

Ho talks with Pham about his still thinking about the two soldiers he killed. He doesn't think he will ever get used to killing men. He says he lived in Saigon where his father was a teacher. He went out of the city to teach to those without teachers. The South Vietnamese soldiers thought he was with the Viet Cong and killed him.

Keene tells his officers the plan of attack on Mei Tang (?). The helicopter pilots says he spotted some Viet Cong around the area and has the feeling that there is a built-up of enemy troops in the area.

Keene narrates that he didn't know it at the time, but that's was the place where the enemy was congregating. Soon he would meet Ho.

Captain Tuong stops at a point overlooking Mei Tang. He tells Ho to come with him while the others stay behind. They have a contact in the village with information for them. Pham also goes with Ho.

The three soldiers get dressed in civilian clothes and have some tea in the village. They watch as the propaganda queen and her lover the French body guard drive through the village in a jeep. She hold a lecture for the adults and praises the efforts and purposes of the South Vietnamese government. An elder in the village steps up to complain that the government makes lots of promises, but they never keep them. The teacher asks the man's name. It's San Tui. She then turns to Jacques and nods to him to get this guy later. Jacques nods back to her in agreement.

Ho and Pham are given the job of killing the propaganda woman. This upsets Ho, but the captain says: "An enemy is an enemy."

The two friends eat at the house where Ho has a relationship with the young daughter. He and she keep glancing at each other. Later at night she comes outside to speak with Ho. She asks him why is he so upset? Because he has been ordered to kill a woman.

That night Jacques shoots the outspoken elder of the village in the back. He then shoots him in the head as he lies unconscious.

Pham and Ho take up their positions. Ho takes out a guard at the house where the propaganda woman is staying with Jacques. He then is able to knock out the guard inside the house.

Khan Li and Jacques are finishing up a sexual encounter. (brief nudity) Khan Li gets up and goes to take a shower. Jacques gets dress and looks outside a window. He hears some noise in the house and starts to investigate. Ho stays very still. Jacques goes from room to room. He comes across the body of the inside guard.

Khan Li goes to to the bedroom to put on his boots. Ho gets up behind him and uses some wire to strangle him. Jacques puts up such a good fight that Ho has to stab him with his knife three times before he die.

Khan Li comes out of the shower and gasps when she sees Jacques dead. Ho appears before her. She decides to use her good looks to distract Ho. She drops the towel around her body, (brief nudity) and starts to kiss Ho. He pretends to be into it, but then stabs her with the bayonet in the mid-section.

Tuong shows the dead bodies of the four people that worked for the South Vietnamese government. He uses their deaths as an example of what will happen to other traitors.

Keene and his troops keep advancing to their objective. All of a sudden they walk right into an ambush. They start losing a great many of their men. Keene gets ahead of the rest of the troops and is going for a lot of kills.

Ho and another man come down the trail and Keene hides behind a tree. When they are close to him, Keene jumps out at them. Ho immediately dives to the ground and the man behind him gets riddled with bullets. Ho tries to pick up his weapon. but stops when he sees Keene directly looking at him ready to kill him. For some reason, Keene does not fire on Ho. Instead he shoots another oncoming soldier. Then Pham comes up behind Keene and knocks Keene out.

Khoi comes running up a sees the unconscious American captain. He slaps Ho on the back and says that getting an American officer is a great honor for Ho. The Vietnamese collect all the guns and ammunition from the American troops. The have four American prisoners altogether.

At a rest stop Khoi comes over and kills one of the prisoners. Another prisoner makes a run for it and is shot multiple times in the back. That leaves just two prisoners left, one of them Keene. Ho rushes over to stop the killing and says that Keene is his prisoner and he will make sure he gets back to Tuong with the American. Khoi contradicts Ho by saying Khoi is the one who controls the captain. Ho doesn't do anything when Khoi's men take Keene away.

At night Khoi has Keene beaten with a rod to his back every time the American refuses to answer a question. Pham tells Ho that the captain is his prisoner. It's Ho who should get the credit, not Khoi.

Khoi gives his soldiers of keeping Keene awake at night. Every time Keene's eyes would close the guard would slap him hard across the face. Ho comes out and tells the guard that he is relieving him. He puts some food on a plate down for Keene to eat. He has to crawl over there to get the food. His hands are tied behind his back.

Ho wants to know from the American, why didn't the American just kill him when he has the chance? Keene falls asleep with his face in the plate of food. Khoi and his men come up and Khoi says his orders were for Keene to be kept awake. He kicks Keene a couple of times. Khoi then says Ho will have to answer for this. Ho tells him it will only be to Captain Toung.

It's a full moon. Ho goes up to Pham and asks him to run to find Captain Toung and tell him Ho is bring in the captain prisoner on his own. Pham is bewildered as to why does Ho care about this American, just one of many Americans they have to kill. Ho explains that the American spared his life.

Later at night, Ho places his left hand over the mouth of Keene and tells him to be quiet. The guard is sleeping. The two men start running. In the morning light, Ho ties Keene's hands behind his back.

Khoi and his men are coming after Ho and Keene. Ho keeps pushing Keene to hurry up. At night they sleep inside a cave. Keene is thinking that he must do anything he can, including killing Ho, to get back to the Americans about the enemy's plans for Mei Tang.

Keene tells the boy that back home he has a wife and a boy about Ho's age. He also says he's from Chicago, Illinois. Keene asks Ho to just let him go because he can't let Ho take him up north alive.

The next day by a river Keene says the river's too deep and he can't swim with his hands tied. Ho gives him a shove and Keene falls in the river. Keene discovers that the is an underwater, wooden bride here. He tells Ho no wonder the aerial photographs never showed a bridge here.

Khoi and his men reach the cave, but, of course, their prey has already left. Ho has Keene dig up some tubers that Ho cuts up and then squeezes to get the water from it. He then gives Keene one of the tubers and a knife and lets him do the same thing.

And now Khoi and his men catch up with Ho and Keene. One of his men hits Keene in the face with his rifle butt. Then Khoi shows Ho Pham's severed head kept in a sack. As the situation is coming to a showdown, an American helicopter flies overhead. Khoi now realizes that the Americans are planning to attack Mei Tang. He says the American is no longer useful and that Ho should kill the captain.

When Ho keeps hesitating from killing the American, Khoi shoves Keene down to the ground and then approaches close. Keene, with the knife still in his hand, stabs Khoi once in the groin area and then straight into the heart. He then grabs Khoi's gun. Ho and Keene just stare at each other. Then Ho takes off. Keene takes off to get back to the Americans.

Keene is rescued and fights in the Mei Tang offensive. He and other Americans are dropped off by helicopters near the village. A huge fire fight, complete with mortars, begins. The Americans start pushing the enemy from the village.

Ho's girlfriend is in the village. She acts like she's in shock. She seems oblivious to the noise and the shock waves from the many explosions. Tuong and Ho are there in the village too. His girlfriend sees him but does not shout out to him. The enemy retreat across the river.

Ho is a real hero for his people. He helps hold off the Americans as his comrades make their way across the river. When they get across Ho stays behind with a machine gun to further delay the Americans from crossing the river.

Keene is one of the men trying to dislodge Ho from his position. So much fire is directed at Ho that he gets wounded. He then tries to crawl his way deeper into the jungle. A jet files over and drops napalm bombs on the jungle edge. The edge goes up in a blaze of fire. Ho si far enough away from the jungle's edge that he survives. Keene and his men will soon be catching up with Ho.

Ho has to rest with his arm around a downed tree trunk. An American is about to shoot him when Keene pulls the man's rifle down. He knows the enemy soldier is Ho. The men say that the enemy has a grenade. Keene starts talking to Ho telling him not to pull the pin. Ho decides not to pull the pin and lets Keene take it from him. Now Keene starts screaming for a medic.

Keene narrates: "After they took Ho, I found his diary lying where he had fallen. I heard he made it. I never saw him again, but I had come to understand that on the other side of the barrel of a gun, there was a man like me. "

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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