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The Sympathizer Cast, Showrunners, Teaser Trailer, Plot And More Details

Whether it's classics like "Platoon" or "Full Metal Jacket" or more contemporary entries like "Da 5 Bloods" or "The Greatest Beer Run Ever," cinema is full of films that explore the Vietnam War from the Americans' perspective. It's much rarer to see an American movie or TV show depict the war from the perspective of the Vietnamese — but that's what HBO will be doing with its upcoming series "The Sympathizer."

"The Sympathizer" is equal parts espionage thriller, love story, and sociopolitical commentary. It's based on the debut novel of the same name by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which won the Pulitzer Prize. It's also a personal story for Nguyen: His parents grew up in North Vietnam, then fled to the South after the Communist takeover of the 1950s. Then, when North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam, Nguyen's family escaped to the United States, just like the main character in his novel. "I wanted to write a novel that was actually entertaining, that people would actually want to read because I knew that I would also be dealing with a lot of very serious political and literary matters," Nguyen told NPR.

A spy thriller that's actually thought-provoking? Sounds like a show that would be right at home on HBO. Here's everything we know so far about "The Sympathizer."

When will The Sympathizer be released?

In April 2021, Deadline announced that HBO had purchased the rights to "The Sympathizer" and planned to adapt it into a TV show produced by A24 and Rhombus Media. In July, Deadline reported that HBO had given "The Sympathizer" a series pickup, while also announcing that Robert Downey Jr. and Park Chan-wook had come aboard. Since that point, a release date has yet to emerge — but it shouldn't be too far off. The first trailer even gives us a specific timeframe: The show will debut at some point in 2024.

The Film & Television Industry Alliance website currently lists "The Sympathizer" as being in development, with filming beginning in September 2022. It's being filmed in both Los Angeles and Vietnam. Though we don't have ironclad specifics just yet, we imagine it won't air in late 2024, given the fact that the first trailer dropped in April 2023.

What's the plot of The Sympathizer?

As mentioned above, "The Sympathizer" will be an adaptation of Viet Thanh Nguyen's 2015 novel of the same name. It's described as a satirical drama that explores the impact of the Vietnam War as well as the realities of living a cross-cultural life.

The story follows a nameless officer in the South Vietnamese army referred to as "The Captain." In the final days of the war in 1975, the Captain finds himself working as a spy for the Viet Cong. Once the war ends, the Captain relocates to Southern California and becomes entangled in the Vietnamese refugee community. Naturally, the Captain finds it difficult to escape his past. He gets a job as a military advisor on a "Platoon"-esque Vietnam War film, but this doesn't place him above suspicion as an enemy to the South Vietnamese cause. Ultimately, the Captain is tasked with leading an actual military raid on Vietnam, with the goal of starting a revolution.

Who's in the cast of The Sympathizer?

"The Sympathizer" features a major A-list actor in Robert Downey Jr. Here, he'll be playing three supporting roles which represent the American establishment. These include a conservative Orange County congressman, a CIA officer, and the director of the war film. Downey Jr. is also co-executive producing the series.

Hoa Xuande will star as the Captain. He previously played Lin on the live-action "Cowboy Bebop" TV series. Joining him is Fred Nguyen Khan in the role of Bon, the Captain's childhood friend, while Toan Le will be playing the General, a former commander in the South Vietnamese army who's fanatically devoted to rooting out traitors. Complicating matters is the fact that the General has a fetching daughter, Lana, played by Vy Lee. Alan Trong will be playing Sonny, the idealistic editor of a Vietnamese-language newspaper who serves as a comedic foil for the Captain. Scott Ly will appear as Gunner Dao, an ex-Vietnamese soldier living in the U.S.

When it comes to other big names, you can expect to see Sandra Oh of "Killing Eve" and "Grey's Anatomy" fame. She'll be playing Sofia Mori, a feminist woman struggling with romance, politics, and her experiences as an Asian American citizen. Kieu Chinh of "The Joy Luck Club" fame is another notable player; she will portray the mom of a character called the Major.

Who's directing and showrunning The Sympathizer?

In April, Viet Thanh Nguyen announced that South Korean director Park Chan-wook would be directing the series. This was a huge get for Nguyen, who told The Korea Herald, "It's a thrill for any writer to have their book adapted to the screen, and in my case, a particular thrill because I'm very excited to be working with Park Chan-wook, whose work I've greatly admired even before I wrote the novel." In fact, Park's film "Oldboy" was a major inspiration for his novel. "Oldboy" is a revenge tale about a man who's imprisoned in a hotel room for 15 years, then escapes and sets out to punish his captors. Park also directed "The Handmaiden," "Stoker," and the "Vengeance" trilogy. Overall, Park's films are known for their stylish violence and black humor, which would seem to make him a great fit for this project. 

In addition to directing, Park Chan-wook will act as co-showrunner alongside Don McKellar. McKellar is a prolific actor, director, screenwriter, and playwright who previously wrote the scripts for the films "Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould," "The Red Violin," and "Blindness." Both will also serve as executive producers. However, when it comes to who's calling the shots behind the camera, Park won't be the only director. Three episodes will be helmed by Marc Munden ("Utopia") and one by Fernando Meireilles ("City of God").

Is there a trailer for The Sympathizer?

On April 12, 2023, the first trailer for "The Sympathizer" hit the internet. It's an absolute stunner, packed with intrigue, emotion, and tantalizing hints of where the story might go. It begins with the Captain, who's being interviewed by someone who claims to have marched on the side of the Vietnamese people as the war raged. With a few simple words, the Captain upends all his assumptions about the war, his place in it, and his own allegiances. Glimpses of complex spycraft ensue: We see the Captain using disappearing ink, burning handwritten messages, and taking clandestine photos. Voices from his past emerge, including someone explicitly declaring, "We sent you to America so you could be our mole. But what happens to a mole when it is suddenly thrust into the sun?"

If this trailer is any indication, the answer is a whole lot of excitement. Notably, as the impressive cast list rolls by, Robert Downey Jr. appears in four distinct personas. We also see terrifying medical environments, sunlit training camps, rallies, and what appear to be interrogation rooms. One thing is clear: "The Sympathizer" is going to be spy drama at its absolute best.