Acclaimed film faces probe amid underage heroine scandal

By An Nguyen   May 20, 2019 | 11:57 pm PT
Acclaimed film faces probe amid underage heroine scandal
A scene from The Third Wife directed by Nguyen Phuong Anh.
Authorities have ordered a review of the licensing of ‘The Third Wife’ amidst heated debate over intimate scenes involving the film’s underage heroine.

On Monday the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism instructed the Cinema Department to report the results of the probe by May 24 and discuss with it how to handle the situation.

Vo Ba (The Third Wife), directed by Nguyen Phuong Anh, is based on a true story from the director’s own family. Set in 19th century Vietnam, it tells the story of 14-year-old May who has an arranged marriage as the third wife of a middle-aged man.

She learns about conjugal life from the first wife Ha and second wife Xuan. As May gets pregnant, she hopes to give birth to a boy to improve her status in the family, but an incident turns things upside down.

The film, rated C18 (not for audiences under 18 years old), opened in Vietnamese cinemas on May 17.

It has come in for plenty of controversy because of the adult scenes Tra My, 15, acted in as a 13-year-old. They include a scene of the wedding night and another with Xuan.

Social media and message boards were agog after people started seeing the movie, with many expressing outrage about using a virtual child actress in intimate scenes.

A VnExpress reader named Huyen said she "does not support the idea of minors playing these scenes." Le Binh, another reader, feared it could mentally affect the girl. Many others agreed with such comments.

Another reader, Anh Tuan, said the film crew should have chosen an 18-year-old with a young face to play the role of the young bride instead of getting an underage actress.

Tra My said she was well protected on the sets. She wore a protective sheath while her mother closely followed the filming.

When filming the controversial scenes, there were only the director, cinematographer and assistant director, all women, and My’s mother on the set. My also said the scenes were not too intense and did not affect her mentally.

Producer Tran Thi Bich Ngoc said the script had been approved by the Cinema Department, and on the set the film crew always made sure all the actors felt safe.

"We discussed with Tra My's mother before shooting. When filming the 'hot' scene, the crew ensured the camera angle and setting and protective accessories prevented any harm to the actors but still managed to create an effect of intimacy between them."

Before its Vietnam release, the movie had garnered a reputation on the festival circuit, winning the Best Film award at the Kolkata International Film Festival in India and an award at the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival in Canada.

It opened in U.S. cinemas on May 15.

The Third Wife movie trailer

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