That gold can’t leave Vietnam in its current condition, so outside forces are necessary to assist. Otis reconnects with Tien (Le Y Lan), a former sex worker with whom he had a relationship during his tours of duty. Tien is now a major financial broker who puts him in touch with a shady French businessman named Desroche (Jean Reno). “He’s expensive,” she tells Otis before naming his price of 20% of the take. Into this expected heist movie scene, Lee introduces the topic of children who have been fathered by American G.I.’s during wars, with Peters and Lan playing the sequence in beautiful understatement before returning us back to the main story. Several times, Lee will engage in these sorts of tangents, either with plot or real-life images and footage edited into the film. The latter device is worked seamlessly into the narrative, sometimes to shocking and heartrending effect, and it often draws parallels, as Ali’s speech does in the first scene, between the poor Vietnamese citizens and the poor Blacks sent to fight them.
Lee also works in ties between the French, who tried their hand at Vietnam, and the Americans, who, to quote Otis, “tried to feed us that anti-Commie Kool-Aid.” “Uncle Sam did no better in Vietnam than the French did,” Desroche tells Paul after the latter goes off on him regarding French weakness. (Oddly enough, Lee’s penchant for wonderfully crazy monikers for his characters is relegated to Reno’s; French speakers will benefit from a great visual play on “Desroche” later in the film.) Paul would rather do business with anyone else, but this is the hand they’re dealt, so the Bloods choose to play it. Soon, they will also encounter other French people, including Hedy Bouvier (Mélanie Thierry) an heiress turned landmine expert whom David becomes sweet on, and her colleagues Simon (Paul Walter Hauser) and Seppo (Jasper Pääkkönen), all of whom will become involved once the violent, action movie elements of the film come into play.
Paul hates the French, the Vietnamese, hell, everybody practically. He’s anti-immigrant and, in what is no doubt a troll on the director’s part, Paul voted for the man an on-screen caption refers to as “President Fake Bone Spurs.” Paul even says “there were atrocities on both sides!” As far as trolling goes, however, Lee is playing the long game here. Paul may be MAGA, and the red hat he wears in the jungle is an image ripe with shade (the hat went to Vietnam, its symbolic representation stayed home), but he is also the most complex character in “Da 5 Bloods,” a mix of rage, anger, and hurt exacerbated by the war and the guilt it seared into his soul. Paul was with Stormin’ Norman when he died, and it’s easy to figure out what happened long before the truth is revealed. But again, that’s the well-worn path Lee travels to get to the heretofore underrepresented onscreen depiction of Black postwar trauma and its effects on friends and family alike.