Lauded Vietnamese film yanked out of theatres at home

The Third Wife, honoured with a Special Mention prize at the Bangkok Asean Film Festival, contains sex scenes involving a teen bride, played by Nguyen Phuong Tra My (left).
The Third Wife, honoured with a Special Mention prize at the Bangkok Asean Film Festival, contains sex scenes involving a teen bride, played by Nguyen Phuong Tra My.PHOTO: ANTICIPATE PICTURES

BANGKOK • Last month, at the Bangkok Asean Film Festival, Vietnamese movie The Third Wife was honoured with a Special Mention prize, with the jury noting its craftsmanship, acting and directing.

In the movie set in rural Vietnam in the late 19th century, a young girl becomes the third wife of a wealthy land-owner.

There are sex scenes and sequences showing childbirth.

But while the film has been well-received overseas, including winning a prize at Toronto International Film Festival 2018, it ran into trouble in Vietnam, leading to the movie being withdrawn from cinemas in late May.

Audiences, reported Vietnam News, were shocked that the third-wife character is played by Nguyen Phuong Tra My, who was then only 13. Netizens have blasted Vietnamese film-maker Ash Mayfair over her casting decision.

My's mother was slammed for allowing her daughter to be involved.

The VnExpress portal cited experts as saying the sex scenes could have a psychological effect on a young actress.

Mayfair told the Hollywood Reporter: "We didn't do anything wrong and we broke no law. They can't attack us on those grounds so there have been attempts to smear the ethics of the actress' mother, publishing her personal details online and saying she had sold her daughter for money."

Defending the film's subject matter, the director said: "These questions are open for debate and I've no problem with that. We talk about women's rights and we are very critical about patriarchal traditions that have been in the country for centuries."

My was reportedly selected after the director auditioned more than 900 candidates.

My, who is now 15 and was said to have convinced her parents that she could perform the role, is upset that the movie cannot be seen by Vietnamese, even as it has drawn applause elsewhere.

Vietnam's censors have reportedly asked Mayfair to submit an edited version of the movie for screening clearance.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2019, with the headline 'Lauded Vietnamese film yanked out of theatres at home'. Print Edition | Subscribe