Movies get sexier as censors go soft on erotica

By Mai Nhat   March 4, 2022 | 12:03 am PT
Movies get sexier as censors go soft on erotica
Actor Quoc Truong (right) and actress Bao Anh in ‘Naked Truth’. Photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment
Recent Vietnamese movie releases have surprised viewers with unusually audacious scenes of sex and violence; observers say censors are being more open minded.

"I’ve never seen such scenes in Vietnamese movies before," said Huynh Chau, 25, who lives in HCMC’s Tan Binh District.

He was speaking after watching director Dinh Ha Uyen Thu’s debut chick-flick ‘Bay Ngot Ngao’ (Naked Truth) last week at a cinema complex in HCMC.

One of the scenes that surprised or shocked Chau (and other movie goers) was that of an abusive husband raping his wife on the dining table.

Chau noted that after two weeks of screening, ‘Naked Truth’, which has an 18+ classification, was still attracting many movie goers, though he felt that the film as a whole was just average. It has solid acting but the script is illogical and not quite persuasive, he said.

Besides ‘Naked Truth,’ according to filmmakers, other movies that are being screened, like Luu Huynh’s drama ‘Nguoi Tinh’ (Made in Heaven) and Tran Huu Tan’s horror flick ‘Chuyen Ma Gan Nha’ (Vietnamese Horror Story) have also managed to pass Vietnamese censors’ adult classification without typical requests that somewhat heavily sexual or violent scenes are removed or modified.

Luu Huynh’s Made in Heaven, which premiered February 18, is filled with sizzling sex scenes. The movie, which is about a "rectangular" relationship between a woman and three men (her husband, her husband’s best friend and her former boyfriend), is generously sprinkled with shots of full or partial nudity and sexual language.

For its part, ‘Vietnamese Horror Story’ also seems to have most of its violent and scary scenes intact. In one scene, a character slowly and painfully removes blood-dripping skin off her face to change her identity. In others, headless bodies walk to and fro.

Positive sign

Many filmmakers consider this move from the censors a positive sign. For years, they have asking for some freedom to do justice to particular genres or artistic messages, something they’ve found difficult to do in Vietnam.

For instance, in the horror genre, the removal of many bloody or otherwise terrifying scenes can make it hard for viewers to understand the plot and find catharsis after experiencing and grasping the full message of a horror story.

After several months of making changes to oblige censors, director Ham Tran’s 2019 horror flick ‘Thien Son Tam Linh’ (Kumanthong) about a serial murder case was faulted by many viewers for being incoherent.

To oblige local censors, some main characters in horror flicks end up having fantasized the whole nightmare, the message being nothing bad has really happened or they have just been manipulated by others. In ‘Vietnamese Horror Story," however, the horror is actually carried out by the main characters who are ghosts and black magicians or otherwise devilish entities.

In other genres, many local filmmakers have also known the bitter taste of censors’ scissors. Though it was a joint winner of the New Currents award at the 2019 Busan International Film Festival, director Tran Dung Thanh Huy’s coming-of-age movie ‘Rom’ didn’t pass local censorship because its social message was considered too negative. He was fined for having the film shown in the festival without permission, and had to show it with a new ending in Vietnam.

In Trinh Dinh Le Minh’s 2019 romance about a gay couple, ‘Thua Me, Con Di’ (Goodbye Mother), a scene in which some fighting during an ancestor’s death anniversary causes a boiled chicken offering to fall to the ground was removed because the censors found it disrespectful to Vietnamese customs.

Over the years, local censors have earned a reputation of being too harsh on Vietnamese movies on the one hand, while being lenient to imported ones, many of which end up showing scenes that are much bolder than local movies.

The recent relaxing of censorship seen in recent movies has encouraged many filmmakers who are breathing sighs of relief.

"This gesture will encourage filmmakers to shoot bolder scenes, say in the horror genre, to satisfy audiences’ diverse tastes," said Tran Huu Tan, director of ‘Vietnamese Horror Story.’

‘Naked Truth’ director Dinh Ha Uyen Thu is also glad that no scene in her movie was removed, allowing her to convey the full tragedy of a sexually abused woman.

"From the film crew’s point of view, all the so-called ‘hot’ scenes were tightly scripted, not redundant or meant as cheap bait," she said.

Speaking for Vietnamese censors, Vi Kien Thanh, head of the Bureau of Cinematography, agreed that with some younger members recently appointed for the 2021-2023 term, the National Film Evaluation Council has become more open-minded.

Thanh said that some members like well-known writer Nguyen Thi Thu Hue or screenwriter Hanh Le provided a more youthful perspective, reflecting contemporary tendencies in world cinema.

He said he’d often discussed with the censors the issue of balancing the need to evaluate movies with a lighter touch with protecting Vietnam’s inviolate principles, which include the sanctity of its territory.

"We agree that in cinema, entertainment is indispensable," Thanh said. "In addition, if we already classify films according to age, we need to be more open-minded about sex and violence, if they remain at an acceptable level."

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