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A former prisoner of war has returned to Vietnam. He's a larger-than-life figure, a war hero, and he's not John McCain. This war hero is a character on film, and he's allowed to appear in different countries, depending on who he's been killing lately. NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from Vietnam's capital, Hanoi.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: Remember the last time Sylvester Stallone's John Rambo was in Vietnam?

(Soundbite of film, "Rambo: First Blood Part II")

Mr. RICHARD CRENNA (Actor): (As Col. Samuel Trautman) A cover operation is being geared-up in the Far East. Your name was dug out by the computer as one of three most able to complete the mission, recon for POWs in 'Nam. Nobody knows that terrain better than you do. Are you interested?

Mr. SYLVESTER STALLONE (Actor): (As John Rambo) Yeah.

Mr. CRENNA: (As Col. Samuel Trautman) Good.

Mr. STALLONE (As Rambo): Sir, do we get to win this time?

(Soundbite of music)

SULLIVAN: The year being 1985 and this being Hollywood, the answer of course was yes, for this mission at least. At the expense of a whole lot of Vietnamese and their Soviet advisers.

(Soundbite of film, "Rambo: First Blood Part II")

(Soundbite of gunshots)

(Soundbite of music)

SULLIVAN: Not surprisingly, Rambo II was banned in Vietnam, as were the other films in the series, but the new "Rambo" IV, with a new set of politically correct villains, Myanmar's military, has gotten a green light from Vietnam censors and is now showing in multiplexes from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.

Ms. NGUYEN TI HONTAT(ph) (Deputy Director, Cinematography Management Department, Vietnam): (Speaking foreign language).

SULLIVAN: Nguyen Ti Hontat, deputy director of the government's Cinematography Management Department, says this Rambo was not judged by the ones that preceded it. They are independent works of art, she says, and must be evaluated accordingly. This film, she says, doesn't violate any laws about spreading information harmful to the state.

Not this state, maybe, but the movie is banned in Burma, or Myanmar as it's now officially known, where the police recently swept the streets of the capital confiscating bootleg copies of "Rambo" IV filmed along the Thai-Myanmar border, a tale of mercenaries and missionaries who need Rambo's help.

(Soundbite of film, "Rambo")

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) People say you know the river better than anyone.

Mr. STALLONE: (As Rambo) Are they alive?

Unidentified Man #2: (As character) So what I'm asking is a few hours of your time that will help change people's lives.

Mr. STALLONE: (As Rambo) Are you bringing any weapons?

Unidentified Man #2: (As character) Of course not.

Mr. STALLONE: (As Rambo) You're not changing anything.

Unidentified Man #2: (As character) It's thinking like that that keeps the world the way it is.

SULLIVAN: Sylvester Stallone's character may be getting old for American audiences but not for a new generation of Vietnamese theater-goers who were born long after the Vietnam War ended and don't know that much about Rambo's back story but do know a good action hero when they see one.

Mr. NGUYEN VON HUNG(ph) (College Student, Vietnam): (Speaking foreign language).

SULLIVAN: I haven't seen Rambo II, this college student, Nguyen Von Hung, says, but I've seen the others on DVD, and I like him. He tries to run from his past, but he can't, and in the end he does something good.

Ms. NGUYEN HON LAM(ph) (College Student, Vietnam): (Speaking foreign language).

SULLIVAN: His date, another college student, Nguyen Hon Lam, says this is her first Rambo, and she says she likes what she saw. He's strong, he's tall, and he's muscular, she says, and he's very human. At the beginning, the student says, he doesn't want to join the fight, but then a woman convinces him to change his mind. I loved that, the student says, that a woman was able to get him to do the right thing.

A kinder, gentler, Rambo? Maybe the Vietnamese aren't the only ones who've moved on.

Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Hanoi.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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