‘MIA: A Greater Evil’. An Exclusive Introduction to our forthcoming film…
The four principal actors of MIA: A Greater Evil – Lamou Vissay, Sarah Ball, Valerie Bentson and Mark Matula.
In the past few weeks I’ve had numerous messages and emails concerning the recent spate of posting about our new film, MIA: A Greater Evil – basically people asking “What’s it all about?”
Well, first, it’s a film that mirrors some of the issues dealt with in my backpacker/Vietnam War crossover novel, BACK, because the film also dramatically catapults the Vietnam War into a modern-day context in a very dynamic and unusual way.
The film deals with the Vietnam War as fought in Laos (better-known as The Secret War in Laos), and the still-bitter issue of American MIAs and POWs left behind in the jungles of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia after the War ended.
MIA: A Greater Evil is a powerful, original, supernatural thriller about which I can’t say too much, plot-wise, for obvious reasons, but here I can tell you why we’re very excited about it, and how it came about.
The project started with some friends who are based in Thailand, and who wanted to show the professionalism of the film industry there. I mulled over a few ideas, and actually went off into the same jungle the film’s based in, to think more deeply about the main issues I wanted to put into the story.
Then, with my creative partner, Byron Bishop, we worked on an extremely detailed treatment for the story, and once that was done I wrote the screenplay very, very quickly. The director of the film, Abishek Bajaj, also made some excellent contributions and added superb cinematic ideas during filming.
In terms of timeline, we were shooting the film only four months after pen was first put to paper, incredible as that sounds. But when you have the right people collaborating, especially at the producer level, then that’s what can happen. (There are another two experienced Thai producers involved: Paracha Pavarolarvidya and Apiwat Bunchalaksi, as well as Abishek, Byron and I).
MIA: A Greater Evil brings gold-panning American student adventurers into a remote part of Laos, along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and into the war-ravaged jungles of the tri-border region during their summer vacation.
Although the film deals with the sorry fate of American soldiers left behind in the jungle after the end of the Vietnam War, the issues of loss, despair and abandonment are not solely confined to US soldiers. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese soldiers are still out there too.
As an aside, when I was writing the screenplay I estimated there are around ONE MILLION people still missing from the Vietnam War. I got to this number by adding American MIAs (1,600), North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers (300,000), South Vietnamese (call it another 200,000) together with MIAs for all the other main combatants on both sides of the war in Laos and Cambodia.
Then I factored in the hundreds of thousands of villagers in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia whose existences, towns and villages were totally obliterated by mass bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and elsewhere in those countries for nine years.
And that doesn’t include MIAs of the Thai army and irregulars (officially none, but that’s rubbish; I have read of some), and other combatants who sided with the US, nor the Chinese and Russian troops (sorry, ‘advisers’) who supported the North Vietnamese, some of whom were also wiped out during the conflict.
Nor does it include South Vietnamese citizens who were ‘disappeared’ when their towns and cities fell to the North Vietnamese Army (Hue, for example, where almost 5,000 civilians were murdered or disappeared after the city fell to the NVA, allegedly for collaborating with the Americans).
I actually think a million people – combatants and civilians – still missing from the Vietnam War may be a serious underestimate; although that’s still more than the separate modern-day populations of cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and Denver. But I’ll stick with it, and hope the film honours all those who never made it home from all sides of the conflict, and especially those innocents caught in the middle.
I most certainly hope the film stirs renewed pressure in American society for a full accounting of what happened to those unfortunate Americans POWs still missing from the war, some of whom I firmly believe were left behind alive when the US pulled out in 1973, and who were subsequently abandoned to their fates.
Why do I think that?
Because I have done considerable research over years into the subject, and seen numerous confidential (now declassified) reports, photographs, drawings and eyewitness accounts in the US’s possession. As a lawyer, I’d believe they were left behind on the balance of probabilities, buttressed by some incredible evidence that they were. But that’s not all.
My opinion has been reinforced by many arduous visits trekking into remote jungles, caves and mountains of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia to locations where American POWs were alleged to have been held, and from talking to people in those areas. Nobody in the world has covered those countries as I have on these MIA/POW-related treks, and few write about this issue in the modern day, so I am proud to have been able to bring this body of personal research to fruition in the writing of MIA: A Greater Evil.
Thankfully, as a Brit, I don’t have any part in the American ‘Culture Wars’ that still rage over this highly emotive issue, but I know whose side I’m on, and I have received many genuinely sad emails from people who still have relatives: fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers – even in some cases husbands – who are still unaccounted for in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. These people have gone through their whole lives without any prospect of closure over the deaths of their loved ones.
They deserve a full accounting.
Regardless of which army someone fought for, I believe nobody should be left behind if they went into battle and risked their life for their country, especially if that abandonment was motivated by bad faith.
Anyway, now off my Soap Box, back to the film again.
MIA: A Greater Evil was shot in ten gruelling days, with a small but brilliant cast. Every scene was shot on location – in the jungle, in caves or on rivers and there was some intense acting required, by day and by night. In fact many of the more shocking and most dramatic scenes happen in broad daylight.
I found it quite creepy watching filming, especially at night along a trail in the jungle, when some of the outstanding acting performances gave me goose-bumps. Given I knew what was coming (because I’d written the words), this has to be an enormous tribute to the quality of the young cast’s acting performances.
Operating on a tight budget, we also had some crew members pitching in for non-speaking roles, including a cameo so fantastic from our sound man, Lee Mason, that he received a huge and spontaneous round of applause for his incredible performance. He did a long action sequence perfectly – in one take. I couldn’t believe what I was watching.
At the other end of the acting scale, we also had Sahajak Boonthanakit guest-appearing in a short role in the film. He’s Thailand’s leading actor, having been in over 30 Hollywood films, including, recently, Gold and No Escape, and he brought some heavyweight acting skills and experience to the film, as well as helping to produce it.
I also got a cameo role in the film, but if I tell you what it is, I’ll get my head kicked in by my fellow-Producers, and as there are four of them, and only one of me, that might be unwise…
I’ll write more about the film as the editing process continues, but everyone’s pretty excited about it right now, and justifiably proud of what we have all achieved in a fantastic, artistic collaboration.
We hope to release it in the summer, and submit it to International film festivals and look for distribution deals at the same time.
This is a trailer for the film:
For more information on POWs and MIAs left behind in Laos, see:
And a video I shot in some notorious Laotian caves where US POWs were held during the war: