Diasporic Returns and the Making of Vietnamese American Ghost Films in Vietnam

A scene from House in the Alley

Publication Year: 2016


Since the end of the Vietnam War, it has been a cliché for writers, politicians, and journalists in the United States to speak about the “ghosts of war” as an enduring metaphor for the effects that the war has on the minds and bodies of Americans. “Vietnam” still casts a pall over today’s political discourses about war, refugees, and US foreign policy. For scholars in Vietnam studies, the “ghosts of war” appear in research about the social relations between the living and the dead in the post-war era; anthropologists, for example, have analyzed the ways that ghosts exert a symbolic and material influence on those grappling with the terrific changes the country has undergone through the ghosting of narratives. Unlike this body of work, which considers the impact of ghosts on lived realities, I am interested in the ways that ghosts have come to life in the form of film, most specifically in the movies directed by Vietnamese Americans who work in Vietnam. Such highly commercial films and their modes of production provide a compelling trace of diasporic history, one borne out of war and displacement, within narratives of the nation.

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