“Bat 21,” about the Vietnam jungle ordeal of an Air Force colonel (Gene Hackman), was the first American movie ever shot in the Malaysian state of Sabah, on the untamed island of Borneo. Hundreds of locals played Viet Cong extras in the film. And when it opened in Sabah recently, posters pasted all over Sabah’s capital, Kota Kinabalu, boasted: “The Greatest Action Adventure of All Time . . . Shot in Sabah.”
But “the ads were only half-right,” commented local film critic Joe Fernandez. “We preferred the Rambo serial. When you are umpteenth in a line of Vietnam war movies, the going gets tough.”
Locals flooded the theater where “Bat” showed but “couldn’t hear much,” said one who played a VC in the picture. “Each time one of us got shot, our families groaned and yelled out our names.” Another commented that “the most shocking part (was) the American curse words.”
Not so shocking were blood-thirsty Viet Cong, leeches, infection, etc., that plagued the hero during his 12-day fight for survival.
Quipped Fernandez: “Some of these conditions are daily fare for many Sabahans.”