America and Asia have always had their constant share of differing views regarding everything from lifestyles to foreign policies - Miss Saigon introduction. Asian countries such as the Philippines, North Korea, Vietnam, Japan, and China, have at one time or another, sometimes even consistently, accused the United States of bullying their individual countries into following their wishes in exchange for funding and subsidies from Americans. With regards to the Vietnam War, Warren I. Cohen and Nancy Bernkopf Tucker in their article “America in Asian Eyes” explain that:
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America’s war in Vietnam, more than any of these other issues, demonstrated how differently the U.S. and much of Asia looked at developments in the region. The United States’ decision to involve itself in Vietnam defined it as an imperialist power brutally denying colonial subjects the freedom they thought they had won in their long struggle against France. The U.S., of course, believed that its fight would spare Asia the scourge of communism and preserve the credibility of Washington’s commitments. Exploiting this disparity, the communist regimes of the region found the war useful in generating anti-Americanism abroad and confirming U.S. iniquity within their own borders.
They went on to add that:
Even in the American client state in southern Vietnam, there were anti-American currents among Buddhist priests and university students. Thich Tri Quang, known to have been the “mastermind” of the 1963 uprising against Ngo Dinh Diem that ultimately led to Diem’s death, and “widely described as the single most influential individual in South Vietnam,” argued in late 1964 that American intervention was prolonging the war and setting Catholics and Buddhists against one another. He deemed the U.S. to be such a serious enemy that Marxism and the National Liberation Front could serve as temporary allies of the Buddhists in the fight to drive the Americans out. In 1965, Quang had a key role in an assault by a mob of five thousand on the United States Information Service (USIS) building in Hue, which helped bring about the fall of the sitting southern government five days later. As the numbers of U.S. forces subsequently increased, so too did the frequency of protests and the perception that each Saigon government was little more than a puppet of Washington
As these beliefs began to take hold in Vietnam, so did the USA lose its support for the war. In fact, one can find a number of similarities between the US- Vietnam war and the currently ongoing US – Iraq War. These and other issues between the USA and Asia, Vietnam in particular, were touched on, albeit lightly in the musical Miss Saigon.
Miss Saigon is an updated telling of the timeless musical Madame Butterfly by Puccini. Set during 1975 events in the Vietnam War but prior to the pull out of the United States military, it tells the story of a selfless and sacrificing love between the American soldier Chris, and the teen- age Vietnamese bar girl named Kim. Majority of the story takes place in an American occupied city of Saigon. Here a colorful and poignant love story unfolds in the characters of the star-crossed lovers Chris, and American GI and Kim; a 17-year-old newly employed bar girl in a nightclub frequented by American soldiers.
One fateful night, Chris is pondering his life direction and what led him to Vietnam, fighting a war that he did not believe in. His friend John, in an effort to lighten his mood, buys him the services of the virgin bar girl Kim, who is working her first night in the club. Affinity and understanding bring the two closer throughout the night leading to some decisions that will change their lives forever. They take part in a ceremony performed as the “Dju Vui Vai”, but are parted during the hurried American evacuation of Saigon. Kim is left behind while Chris tries to rebuild his life in the United States, continuously hounded by the memory of the love he left behind. He marries an American named Ellen and convinces himself that Kim is dead.
In truth Kim has left Saigon and is struggling to survive with Chris’ son, Tam. Upon learning that Kim is still alive, Chris sets out to Asia in search of her and their son. While making her way to the USA, Kim comes across John in Bangkok. John tells her that Chris is with him but devastates Kim with the news that Chris now has a life in which she has no place. Wanting only what is best for her son, she commits the ultimate sacrifice to free Chris from her memory and give her son a better future in America. The play ends with a dramatic suicide scene where Kim swears
As long as you can have your chance, I swear I’ll give my life for you.
Handing the boy over to his father is her way of fulfilling that unbreakable promise between mother and child. Kim’s death means a new and better life for her son and she is willing to give up her life for in order to insure that chance.
The songs of Miss Saigon always help to advance the story and explain the situations unfolding. For instance, in the song “The Heat is on in Saigon”, portrays the American soldiers as easy going and without much care even while in the middle of the war. Aside from Chris, who is emotionally affected by the sadness and death around him, most soldiers seem detached from what is happening around them. While the Asians are portrayed the way the Vietnamese actually viewed their lives during that time in the 1970’s, desperate for a life free of war, poor and willing to try and do anything if it meant a shot at a brighter future for themselves. The song “The Movie in My Mind” effectively portrays how the women feel like cattle being sold to the highest bidder and try to block out the degradation of their character and sex by imagining something else. During “The Fall of Saigon”, we are treated to the frenzied final hours of the Americans in Saigon. We see, hear and feel all the hopes draining for the Vietnamese who are left behind to wallow in a socialist government that was not of their choosing. This song, along with “The Morning of the Dragon” portrays the hopelessness that killed the very essence of a Vietnamese person.
Aside from the personal war within Chris regarding how to deal with his being stationed in Vietnam, some other conflicts also arose in the story. For example, Chris had to deal with his developing feelings for Kim, all the while knowing that nothing was sure about his relationship with her. He tries to communicate this inner conflict through prayers in the song “Why God”. By the time they get to know each other’s lives and past in “Sun and Moon”, they have fallen helplessly in love and decide to have a marriage ceremony on impulse. In “The Telephone Song”, Chris chooses the path that he feels will set him free and asks John to help him celebrate his marriage to Kim. After they are separated, he begins his search for Kim and Tam in Bangkok. He is faced with the reality of his 2 loves, in the song “It’s Her or Me”, Ellen forces him to choose between living in the past or continuing to heal himself of his emotional scars from the way by choosing to love Ellen. In “I Still Believe”, both women sing of their love for the same man and how Ellen wonders what his terrible secret is. While Kim continues to hold on to her dream of reuniting her family once Chris returns to her.
Based upon majority of the songs in the play, all the characters are posed with various decisions to make. Decisions that, due to the situations that influenced the actions, carried life long repercussions for all of them. For Kim, it was the unfilled dream of living a life with her beloved Chris and their son. For Chris, it was living with the broken promise and never knowing what became of Kim.
The central points of the musical are the decisions that Chris had to make throughout his life and how it affected everyone around him. The secrets he kept from his wife regarding Kim and the life he left behind during the war. In “The Confrontation”, Chris finally gets the courage to tell Ellen everything about his past in Vietnam and promises to make amends. He blames himself for everything that has happened because:
Christ I am American! How could I fail to do good?
This is reflective of the American role in the world as the savior of nations in need and world police, always striving to bring peace and understanding between warring nations.
For John, he continues to work towards making amends for the free wheeling lifestyle the American soldiers led in Vietnam by working for an organization whose sole objective is to reunite ” Bui-Doi”, the children of American soldiers left in Vietnam, with their fathers. The song of the same name deals with the problem of prejudice that these children have to deal with due to their Eurasian features. The usual solution most American fathers have for this is to support the child from a distance. But not take them to the USA, which is what Chris originally decided to do due to Ellen’s adamant refusal to accept Tam into their family. This whole drama is effectively portrayed in “The Confrontation”. While Ellen’s change of heart is clearly seen with her acceptance of Tam with open arms after Kim’s death in “The Finale”
All the characters use the songs to portray various emotions from the joys of falling in love to the despair of losing a loved one, and eventually, having to deal with the death of somebody who changed your life. The production by Cameron Macintosh, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, with lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr uniquely offer a fresh insight into an old story by using infectious rhythms and involving lyrics solidifying Miss Saigon as the Madame Butterfly of its generation. .
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“Looking Past the Negatives: Miss Saigon Still Draws the Crowds”. Centerstage. March 21, 2007 < http://skew.ot.com/three/stage/home.html>
“Miss Saigon Lights Up Byham”. The Carnegie Pulse. February 2, 2006. March 18, 2007 <http://www.tcpulse.com/2006/02/02/ac/saigon/>
Original Cast Recording. Miss Saigon. Geffen, 1988
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” War, Romance in ‘Miss Saigon'”. thefalfononline.com. April 20, 2005. March 19, 2007 <http://www.thefalcononline.com/story/4610>