By now you’ve either seen The Hangover Part II or have decided that you won’t bother, so I want to get into spoiler territory. Such as it is for a dumb movie like this.
In my review of the film I bemoaned the movie’s flirtation with true darkness, saying that it never quite went all the way, as a sequel to the highest grossing comedy of all time could afford to. But there was, at the end during the montage of still photos, a moment that really got to that dark place, and which made me cackle like a lunatic: a parody of the infamous photo of an execution from the Vietnam War. Usually when this image is referenced in a movie it’s a heavy, serious thing, but here Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) is laughingly playing the victim in a restaging of that historic, tragic moment.
It outraged Roger Ebert. He called it ‘a desecration of one of the two most famous photos to come out of the Vietnam War,’ as well as ‘an offense against humanity.’ Now that’s a recommendation!
If the rest of The Hangover Part II had even attempted to rise to that level of tastelessness I’d be defending the movie with all my might. Instead I have to hope that The Hangover Part III will be sufficiently evil.
By the way, the guy taking a bullet to the head in the real photo is a Vietcong named Nguyen Van Lem; he is reported to have been a captain in a Vietcong assassination squad that targeted South Vietnamese police officers. The truth of that is still up in the air today, as later statements claimed Lem was a high ranking Communist party official.
The man doing the shooting is General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, who would be demonized all over the world. He lost his leg to a machine gun and ended up in the United States, where he operated a pizzeria in Virginia - until his identity got out and he was forced out of business. He died in 1998.
Eddie Adams was the photographer, who won a Pulitzer for the photo. Adams, a former Marine photographer, joined the AP and had just arrived in country when the Tet Offensive began. The photo was taken on the second day of the Offensive. He has said that he didn’t expect Loan to shoot Lem, that he assumed he was going to hold the gun to his head while interrogating him. The photo turns out to be a ‘lucky’ accident. Adams feels responsible for the later problems in Loan’s life, and believes that the bullet that killed Lem eventually also killed Loan, in a metaphorical way.
There’s video of the execution, by the way. An NBC cameraman was there on the scene with Adams, and the color footage played on American TV screens. The one two punch of the Tet Offensive - everybody figured the VC were beaten until they launched this massive, devastating assault - and the bloody footage of a man in street clothes being summarily executed helped turn the tide of public opinion against the war.