'I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds. I am not some misunderstood mutant from a comic book or a horror movie, although some have treated me as such. I am simply able to see any issue from both sides,' begins Viet Thanh Nguyen's sprawling debut novel, The Sympathiser.
Now, it is being adapted for television by Korean film master Park Chan-wook, the director behind Oldboy, and the quite possibly perfect 2016 film The Handmaiden. Announcing the rights had been optioned by buzzy production studio A24, Nguyen revealed that Park's lauded 2003 film Oldboy was in fact a big influence on him while he was writing The Sympathiser.
The novel, for which Nguyen has just released a sequel The Committed, follows an anonymous Vietnamese narrator working as an undercover communist double agent; a shadowy figure who reveals another perspective of the Vietnam War. This idea is directly referenced by the narrator posing as a cultural advisor on a US film set, questioning the American-centric view of films like Apocalypse Now. The winding story begins with the fall of Saigon told through flashbacks, then treads the streets of Seventies Los Angeles where he has immigrated, and back to Vietnam where he returns as part of a guerrilla raid against the communists.
Blending elements of horror, espionage, mystery, historical fiction, war and black comedy, The Sympathiser slips through your fingertips at the moment you think you've got a grasp on it, making it just the kind of dark and obscure material which Park will excel at bringing to life on screen.
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