Shooting match

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 March, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 March, 1994, 12:00am

WE are between a rock and a hard place as Pearl and World continue their firing of big guns in the run-up to the Oscars. Four days to go.

The rock is The Deer Hunter (World, 9.30pm) and the hard place is Born On The Fourth Of July (Pearl, 9.30pm). Both are potent, both are enjoyable, and both are about Vietnam, at least its impact on the people who went. To guide your decision-making, there follows a summary of what you can expect: The Deer Hunter is the better film, but is long (a gargantuan 183 minutes in its original form). Some say it is also racist. Born On the Fourth Of July is shorter, but not much (140 minutes). It won an Academy Award for Oliver Stone as Best Director and stars Tom Cruise which, for many, will be reason enough to watch it.

Cruise's performance, for once, is a commanding one. Golden Boy he may be, but Cruise has appeared in some pretty average films and turned in some uninspiring performances, the hallmark of which has been machismo not method (Top Gun, Far And Away, Days Of Thunder, The Firm).

In Fourth Of July Stone reduced Cruise's cinematic testosterone level by putting him in a wheelchair. In a wheelchair it is difficult to posture, so you have to act, and hey presto, it worked. Tom Cruise can act.

He plays Ron Kovic, a God-fearing, gung-ho, All-American boy who takes a bullet in Vietnam that leaves him paralysed from the waist down. Back home among people who don't understand he turns into a degenerate, drunken, self-pitying dropout.

Cruise carries the film through some rocky moments and emerges with his acting credentials not only intact, but improved. It would be nice to see him do it again.

Christopher Walken does much the same in The Deer Hunter. He deservedly won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and the film deservedly won one as Best Picture.

The Deer Hunter is long because it had to be long (there is a story to tell), emotionally draining, traumatic and memorable. But it has been criticised for its somewhat slanted view of the war and its racist portrayal of the Vietnamese.

Despite that, it is still a journey worth making and the ending is as necessarily brutal as everything that comes gone before it. Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and John Cazale also star. THE exorcising of the Vietnamese ghost is still not complete. It returns in The Iron Triangle (Pearl, 1.30am), a look at the war from the ''enemy's'' side, starring Beau Bridges and Haing S. Ngor, star of The Killing Fields and of Oliver Stone's recent Heaven And Earth. For the Oscar weary and the war weary there is only Maybe Baby (World, 2.15am), which didn't win any of the former and is not about the latter. It stars Dabney Coleman and Jane Curtin as a couple who decide to have a baby and features a truly cornball script.

THE people of China should be gratified that Zhou Enlai left them a great legacy. It was, according to director Ding Yinnan's Zhou Enlai (Star Chinese Channel, 9.15pm) to sing the Internationale before he breathed his last. ''This is the testament he leaves to the people of China,'' proclaims the synopsis.

The film, starring Wang Tiecheng, depicts the ''inner world, noble personality and charisma of Premier Zhou''. Stop me if I am brainwashing you.

''During the period when Zhou Enlai is in charge of Central Committee work, the economic order begins to revive. The establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States impresses the world.

''But misfortune assails Premier Zhou when he learns he has contracted terminal cancer.'' Misfortune indeed. But we should be thankful he found time to belt out the Internationale before he succumbed. Legacies do not come much greater than that.