Hiep Thi Le, Vietnamese Refugee Who Became Film Star, Dies at 46

Mr. Stone had already examined Vietnam and its aftermath in his films “Platoon” (1986) and “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989) when he took up the true story of Le Ly Hayslip, a Vietnamese woman who in two memoirs recounted her often harrowing story of life in central Vietnam and, later, the United States.

HEAVEN & EARTH (Oliver Stone, 1993) – Trailer Video by ClassicTrailersTV

Mr. Stone held open auditions for the part of Le Ly, drawing thousands of hopefuls. Ms. Le, he told The New York Times in 1993, “just had the light.”

At the time, she was a student at the University of California at Davis studying physiology and had no acting experience. She had gone to an open casting call in San Jose, she said, merely to accompany friends.


Ms. Le with Don Duong in “Green Dragon,” a 2001 film directed by Timothy Linh Bui about Vietnam War refugees.

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“Everybody was going to this thing,” she told The San Francisco Chronicle in 1993. “I didn’t even know what it was for. I thought it was for TV.”

Ms. Le impressed critics when the movie came out.

“You can’t not be moved by Hiep Thi Le’s amazing performance,” Jay Carr said in reviewing the film in The Boston Globe.

In The Times, Janet Maslin wrote, “As played with impressive confidence by Hiep Thi Le, a Vietnamese-born California college student making her film debut, Le Ly certainly does not lack energy.”

Ms. Le went on to appear in about a dozen other movies, including “Cruel Intentions” (1999); “Green Dragon” (2001), which was about Vietnam War refugees;and “Return to Pontianak” (2001), which was directed by her husband, the writer and director Djinn. They had two children.

In addition to her acting, Ms. Le was a restaurateur. She opened two restaurants in California, the China Beach Vietnamese Bistro in the…

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