Behind the lines in the Vietnam war, Major Verdun's company of Rangers ambushes a trainload of supplies for the North Vietnam Army and are shocked to find tank shells on board. On their way back to base the unit is diverted to the hillfort of Lang Mei which has been destroyed by NVA forces. The troops secure the fort while Verdun returns to base to secure reinforcements, however his rebellious attitude is disliked by the senior command and he is placed under arrest, with rookie Captain Wheeler sent to supervise the soldiers still at Lang Mei. He insists on following strict military protocol and refuses to call for support for what he considers is unlikely to be a major target for the NVA. However Vietnamise Colonel Minh Van Po is convinced that Verdun is still in the fort and launches a series of deadly attacks on the base to try and kill his dangerous rival...
Released as the third part of a trilogy that had already featured an enjoyably over-the-top action fest and a surprisingly dark and well written drama, Last Stand at Lang Mei goes down a more traditional war movie route but manages to be another strong production. Co-scripted by Carl Franklin (who wrote and directed Inside the Enemy and stars in this film) the story appears to be loosely inspired by the Battle of Lang Vei, notable for seeing the first use of tanks by the NVA. The script takes on a 'grunt movie' approach typical in Vietnam war films (most famously Platoon (1986)) showing the conflict almost entirely from the perspective of the regular soldiers on the ground.
Compared to its epic American cousins, Last Stand at Lang Mei has a quite simple script. Characterisation is very basic and does not even resort to stereotyping - all of the company are hard grafting heros. The arrival of the 'by the book' commanding officer is an old cliché but played well, with plausibility behind his motives not to call in reinforcements, although the reasons for the officials at base camp to dislike Verdun so much are never explained. The attitude to the conflict itself is handled quite differently to most Vietnam War films - while the 'war is hell' message comes through loud and clear, the idea that this was a pointless struggle is never stated - the defence of this isolated hill fort could easily be compared to the assault on Hill 937 featured in Hamburger Hill (1987) which was seen as a complete waste of life on a needless target, but this is never discussed here and all of the characters seem completely accepting of their orders to hold the position.
Unusually among Vietnam flicks, the script here chooses to characterise some of the enemy and even though only featuring briefly, the NVA's Colonel Po is portrayed as an intellectual commander and a genuinely worthy opponent. The film also mentions the contribution of the Montagnard hillpeople who fought alongside the American troops during the war, including in the real life Lang Vei battle (although the script does not discuss the frequent tensions between the hillpeople and South Vietnamise troops).
At its heart Last Stand at Lang Mei is an exploitation war film and the script provides for numerous action scenes which while not quite as frequent as in the original Eye of the Eagle, are much larger in scale and continually inventive. With its largely stripped down script, the film moves briskly between the attacks on the base with enough storyline to keep things interesting and it builds up to a tense and suitably dramatic finalé (although the lack of characterisation does rob these scenes of the emotional power that they might have had).
Cirio H. Santiago is back behind the camera and the all important action scenes are superbly handled with some good wide shots to show off the scale of the assaults - even two night-time raids are well filmed, without resorting to day-for-night photography. There is plenty of good hardware and equipment on show and some superb explosive effects and amazing stunts (including several scary looking full body immolations), however some of the stunt men do go over-the-top on their deaths and the sight of soldiers turning triple-somersaults on being machine gunned does add unintentional hilarity to a few of the combat scenes.
After taking a small part in the second film, Carl Franklin writes himself into one of the main roles this time around and is convincing as a rebellious soldier. The cast as a whole is strong, although the use of posh British accents by the NVA commanders is a little strange.
Curiously, despite its setting the script behind Last Stand at Lang Mei is often more remniscent of a 1950s British WW2 film, with its focus on a team of heros, often let down by higher-ups, in small scale action against an enemy who are briefly but respectfully shown. With Santiago directing however we are treated to a thoroughly exploitative series of explosive and dramatic action highlights. These two elements combined with some good acting and a decent soundtrack make for a highly enjoyable war film without the chrome trappings usually associated with 'Nam films.
|Anyone famous in it?||No-one well known.|
|Directed by anyone interesting?||Cirio H. Santiago - a prolific exploitation producer from the Phillipines who also directed a number of films including 'Mad Max' rip Dune Warriors (1990) and women-in-prison film Caged Heat II (1994)|
|Who else was involved?||Producer Roger Corman - the American exploitation veteran who also had a successful directing career.|
|Any gore or violence ?||Some blood and a few vivid (but only glimpsed) burn effects.|
|Any sex or nudity?||None|
|Who is it for?||One for fans of action-war films.
|Eye of the Eagle (1986)||The original is one of the most absurdly over-the-top war films ever made.|
|Eye of the Eagle II (1989)||A complete change for the series, a storyline based drama with only a few action scenes.|
|Visuals||Original aspect ratio - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Colour
Print is acceptable - minimal damage and good colours but a general lack of detail, looks like a decent quality VHS transfer - the night scenes are still clear and watchable. There is a little shuddering to the print in a couple of slow-motion scenes, although these are only brief.
The film was almost certainly indended primarily for video and television and so the fullscreen ratio would seem to be correct.
|Audio||English stereo - sounds good, although early scenes do have a little stereo echo.
German stereo - sounds fine.
|Extras||This disc includes:
|Availability||German DVD release - title Dirty Vietnam.|
|Region||Region 0 (ALL) - NTSC|
|Other regions?||Available in the US from New Concorde productions - now out-of-print.|
|Cuts?||Cut status unknown - no apparent cuts. English language print including the MPAA card and 'New Concorde Home Video' logo.