At a meeting held to discuss amendments to the Law on Cinematography on September 14 Major General Le Tan Toi, head of the National Assembly’s National Defense and Security Committee, called for banning films that show "law-breaking" since it induces copycat behaviors by viewers.
He pointed to a popular gangster serial, ‘Nguoi Phan Xu’ (The Arbitrator), saying when it became a hit, "crime grew."
Films showing unpunished crimes or people living selfishly and making it look too realistic could also influence movie watchers and encourage them to replicate such behaviors, he said.
But film industry insiders dismissed this as merely Toi’s opinion and speculation, saying is no research or data to prove that movies influence real life.
Director Khai Hung claimed: "In 2017, when ‘Nguoi Phan Xu’ was broadcast and earned kudos on social media, there were no complaints or studies showing that it had a negative impact on society."
Actor Trung Anh in 'Nguoi Phan Xu.' Photo courtesy of VFC
Trung Anh, who played Luong Bong, the criminal in the series, said ‘Nguoi Phan Xu’ was not as violent or sexual as the Israeli original, ‘Ha-Borer’.
"In my opinion, the series reflects reality, and viewers can realize there is bad and evil, thereby avoid making mistakes."
The Vietnamese version underwent a lot of changes to suit the country’s culture, he said.
In the serial, Bong, despite being loved by viewers, dies in the end.
Anh said the character is shown as having a complicated life to convey the message that not everyone is born a criminal.
"He lived in the crime world, and was aware of its evil but could not shake it off. Before he dies, he gives a notebook containing a lot of important information to the police. According to the script, Luong Bong would not die, but I told the director the character should commit suicide."
Other artists said Vietnamese crime films often depict tough battles between the forces of good and evil, promoting the concept of justice, pointing out that in the end the police always triumph over the underworld.
The drama ‘Me Cung’ (Maze) directed by Khai Anh and screened in 2019 depicts a battle between the police and a serial killer nicknamed Fedora. But despite her street smarts, Fedora is eventually captured and faces justice.
Nguyen Hai, who has played many criminal roles in movies, said criminals are portrayed as daring and dangerous to show the hardships faced by the police.
"If criminals in movies are not portrayed realistically, the fight for justice in movies will lose its meaning."
Many of the movie industry insiders said people’s awareness has increased, and audiences now watch movies for entertainment and enjoyment and do not take them to heart.
Compared to elsewhere, movies in this genre account for only a small proportion in Vietnam.
Director Charlie Nguyen said Korea has Park Chan Wook's ‘Oldboy’ and the U.S. had many famous directors like Alfred Hitchcock who made a series of movies on serial killers, attracting audiences of all ages.
"No one watches a movie to be taught how to do this or that. The first function of movies is entertainment. Fans watch crime movies because they want to learn about the crime world."
Some filmmakers said Vietnamese movie censors and authorities should take a fairer view of their works, so the cinema industry can develop better.
Many streaming services like Netflix and HBO broadcast foreign films with violence and crime that attract a large number of viewers because of their entertainment, they pointed out.
According to directors Hung and Nguyen, international films on streaming platforms do not face the strict censorship domestic films do.
Nguyen said people should have an open look at crime movies because it is a difficult genre, and many moviemakers did not dare try their hand at it.
"If General Major Toi's proposal is approved, I am afraid many filmmakers will quit because they feel they are not properly protected or supported by the authorities."
Director Nguyen Hoang Diep agreed: "Vietnamese films face more difficulties than foreign films because foreign ones are not censored much. If such a proposal is approved, filmmakers will reject good topics just to be safe."
Director Nguyen Quang Dung said this proposal is likely to take the cinema industry backward.
Some filmgoers agreed with the moviemakers, saying it is not reasonable to claim movies lead to a rise in crime.
Nevertheless, they said, authorities should classify movies and series carefully based on theme, content, language and whether it portrays violence, sex, horror, or drugs.
"Especially those shown during primetime on TV, because normally children also watch them," Nguyen Thanh Hang of Hanoi’s Long Bien District said.
Vietnam has four classifications for movies in cinemas: P for general audiences, C13 for viewers ages 13 and above, C16 for viewers aged 16, and C18 for adults.
But there are no ratings for TV serials.
The Law on Cinema was passed by the 11th National Assembly on June 29, 2006. The Law amending and supplementing a number of articles of the Law on Cinema was approved by the 12th National Assembly on June 18, 2009. After more than 14 years of implementation, the revised Law on Cinema will be voted on by the 15th National Assembly at its second session, which opens at the end of October.
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