Searing drama series on Vietnam returns. Tale of a soldier who gets `too involved' with locals

Vietnam War Story: An Old Ghost Walks the Earth HBO/pay cable, Wednesday, 10-10:30 p.m.; repeated July 22 and 24. Writer: Adam Rodman. Director: Michael Toshiyuki Uno. Actors: Tim Guinee, Wesley Snipes, Connie Lew. One of the most disturbingly direct series about American troops in Vietnam is returning to HBO with six new fictional episodes. They could do more to explain the complexities of human relationships in the midst of the devastating firefighting than many hours of film documentaries and thousands of pages of history textbooks.

When it had its debut last year, ``Vietnam War Story'' was hailed for its compelling message of understanding. Bold, gritty, often profane, as it reflected the actual language of the ``dogface,'' the dramas delved deeply into the impact of the war on those who fought it, those who were caught in it, those who stayed behind. Now, six new episodes continue the outspoken and tremendously dramatic tales of a convoluted war in which most of the past rules of warfare had to be discarded.

``An Old Ghost Walks the Earth,'' the first episode in the series, is the simple story of a small-town Southern sergeant who would have preferred to be in the Peace Corps and now wants to help the South Vietnamese farmers in a ``protected'' village. His black buddy (``I don't judge you by your color, so don't you judge me by my accent,'' the sergeant tells him) tries to warn him against getting too involved with the civilians (``If you want to make it back, just throw away those pictures of your family and think about here'').

The idealistic sergeant, superbly played with sad intensity by Tim Guinee, refuses to heed the warnings, and eventually his actions cause brutal repercussions. In the end, the pictures of the family back home are reluctantly thrown into a funeral fire.

South Vietnam in this film looks a bit too much like southern California, but otherwise the feeling of time and place are just right. The internecine psychological battle between the GIs and the Vietnamese soldiers is skillfully written by Adam Rodman to help one understand a bit more about the ambivalence of the people involved in this paradoxical war.

A later episode will follow on July 27, and then four more in August. ``Vietnam War Story'' offers probing drama about courage and questioning and battlefield ambivalence, which may help explain to people back home now some of the seemingly inexplicable actions of Vietnamese soldiers then. ``An Old Ghost Walks the Earth'' is an enigmatic and disquieting story of the anguish of those who were forced to participate in a war that is just now becoming understandable on all its multilevels.

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