Life of legendary Vietnamese spy set for screen

January 09, 2022 - 08:47

The life and career of late Vietnamese legendary spy Phạm Xuân Ẩn will come alive on screen thanks to a film project launched by BHD, a private film agency in HCM City. 

By Thu Anh 

The life and career of late Vietnamese legendary spy Phạm Xuân Ẩn will come alive on the screen thanks to a film project launched by BHD, a private film agency in HCM City. 

BHD and American historian-writer Larry Berman have signed a contract to produce a feature film based on the author’s book Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An, Time Magazine Reporter and Vietnamese Communist Agent.

Berman’s book was released in 2007. It was translated into Vietnamese and has been reprinted several times by leading publishers. 

American historian-writer Larry Berman (right) and Vietnamese legendary spy Phạm Xuân Ẩn. Photo from the Facebook of Larry Berman

BHD invited Vietnamese-American film director, screenwriter and producer Charlie Nguyễn to join the project. 

To prepare for filming, Nguyễn met with Berman. 

“I’m very interested to work with producer BHD and Larry Berman on the film about spy Ẩn,” said Nguyễn, who has 30 years of experience in the industry. 

Berman wrote on his Facebook page: “Charlie [Nguyễn] and I share a vision for the arc of Phạm Xuân Ẩn’s life and the power of his life story. I am confident that Charlie will find the best way to tell that story. I am also excited to serve as a 'creative consultant' for the project. Dreams do come true!” 

General Ẩn (right) and General Võ Nguyên Giáp. File Photo

“I have always believed and dreamed that the story of Phạm Xuân Ẩn’s life would be made into a major motion picture.”

Berman is a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Davis.

He has written several books on the American war in Việt Nam, including Planning a Tragedy: The Americanization of the War in Vietnam and Lyndon Johnson’s War: The Road to Stalemate in Vietnam.

He visited Việt Nam several times to write his book on Ẩn, and later returned to introduce his book and talk about the spy. In 2017, he visited and spoke about his book and Ẩn with 200 students from the HCM City University of Social Sciences and Humanities.

He told tales of the intelligence agent’s life and his dream of peace and friendship between Việt Nam and the US.


General Phạm Xuân Ẩn, also known as X6, Trần Văn Trung and Hai Trung, was born in 1927 in Đồng Nai Province. 

General Phạm Xuân Ẩn, Vietnamese legendary spy during the American war in Việt Nam. Photo courtesy of the General’s family

He began to take part in revolutionary activities in the early 1950s and was inducted into the Communist party in 1953.

He was sent to study journalism in the US to create cover to penetrate deeper into the Sài Gòn military and administration.

After returning to Việt Nam, Ẩn worked for Reuters, Time magazine and the New York Herald Tribune, while providing intelligence to the Vietnamese army fighting against the US invasion of South Việt Nam and the Sài Gòn administration.

He sent out 498 reports and documents to the revolutionary base, which were so accurate that General Võ Nguyên Giáp, a leader of the Central Military Commission of Hồ Chí Minh Campaign, in 1975, joked, “We are now in the US war room.”

After the war, Ẩn was awarded the title "Hero of the People’s Armed Forces" by the Vietnamese Government.

In 2017, a documentary film featuring the agent’s life was broadcast on HCM City Television.  

The 12-episode series, Huyền Thoại Về Tướng Tình Báo Phạm Xuân Ẩn (Legendary Spy Gen Phạm Xuân Ẩn), was directed by female artist Lê Phong Lan. 

Lan talked and worked with Berman before shooting. 

“In my documentary about the work and life and revolutionary activities of General Ẩn, who worked as an intelligence agent for our country during the American War and a reporter for the US media, my staff and I tried our best to understand the history and depict it realistically,” said Lan. 

Lan and her staff spent three years filming. They spent two years writing and editing the script, reading many Vietnamese and foreign books, newspapers, and documents related to events during the 1950s and 1970s.

During filming, they unearthed facts and myths that shed light on the personalities and silent contributions of Ẩn, who died in 2006, and other Communist party members.

“Before making the documentary, we had little knowledge about war or politics. We later gained many lessons,” said Lan, director of Bản Sắc Việt Studio, a private film company in HCM City. 

“Through my film, I want young audiences to care more for life and peace. I believe that in war, people see love.” VNS