Watch of the Week: The Sympathizer

Oldboy director Park Chan-wook and co-showrunner Don McKellar’s series adaptation of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a cinematic tour de force – with Park paving the way with the first three and best of seven episodes. Anyone who’s familiar with the book’s tricky material realises that it’s an impressive feat to pull off. The Sympathizer skips from drama to satire to comedy as it wraps itself around complex issues about identity, the immigrant experience, America’s struggle to grasp Asian culture and history and the feeling of always being the outsider. It does so with vision, depth and detail. Actor Hoa Xuande beautifully handles the difficult task of bringing to life the nameless Captain, the show’s duplicitous protagonist who’s an undercover double agent during the Vietnam War era. His mother was Vietnamese, and his dad was French.

The series opens with The Captain imprisoned in Vietnam, where he’s ordered to write down his recollections — which provide chances to flash back to his friendship with two other boys, his work and his relationship with an anti-Communist known as The General (Toan Le) and his family members, a nail-biting flight out of Vietnam during the fall of Saigon, the people he meets and even targets in Los Angeles, and the insane consultancy role he lands in on an overblown, excessive Vietnam War movie.

Through these experiences, the General also encounters larger-than-life characters — key ones played to the hilt by Oscar winner Robert Downey Jr., an actor who specialises in chewing up the scenery. Wisely, the directing and producing team (Downey Jr. is a producer) hand him ample space to cook. It’s a smart move, with Downey Jr. providing much of the humour and sometimes the menace in a variety of roles. Also memorable — and deserving of another Emmy nomination — is Sandra Oh, the exasperated assistant to Downey Jr.’s professor and the older lover to The Captain. The Sympathizer walks a tightrope but is fearless about tackling uncomfortable subject matter. It’s smart and mesmerising.

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Boluwatife Adesina is a media writer and the helmer of the Downtown Review page. He’s probably in a cinema near you.

About Author / Boluwatife Adesina

Boluwatife Adesina is a media writer and the helmer of the Downtown Review page. He’s probably in a cinema near you.

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