Award-Winning Vietnamese Film Pulled From Local Release Over Intimate Scenes Involving Teenage Actress

The Third Wife  Still 2 - TIFF Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of TIFF

Ash Mayfair's 'The Third Wife', which won prizes at Toronto and San Sebastian festivals, stars actress Nguyen Phuong Tra My, who was 13 years old during shooting.

Vietnamese director Ash Mayfair’s multiple award-winning drama The Third Wife has been removed from cinemas in her homeland after growing public concerns over intimate scenes involving its teenage lead actress Nguyen Phuong Tra My.

According to a local media report, Vietnamese production house Ba Sac Cau Vong pulled the film from cinemas Tuesday after asking permission from the country’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. The ministry had, in turn, asked for a reclassification of the film.

The decision to pull the film, which was released last Friday in Vietnam with an 18 rating, was taken after growing online criticism of My's family for allowing the actress to take part in the film, which deals with mature themes and includes intimate scenes between My and her older co-stars. My was 13 at the time of the shooting. 

The Third Wife is the debut film by Mayfair, a Ho Chi Minh City-born New York University-trained filmmaker, and it follows the path taken by a young woman in 19th century Vietnam as she enters an arranged marriage with a much older man, becoming his third wife.

Producer Tran Thi Bich Ngoc told VN Express International that the actress had not been “harassed nor her body exposed” during shooting and that Mayfair’s script — based on a story from her own family history — had been approved by Vietnamese authorities. They said they suspended the release of the film to protect My and her family from online criticism. 

The Third Wife is currently on limited release in North America after opening May 15. The film been sold to 27 other markets, according to press reports.

After securing international support from the likes of the Spike Lee Production Fund and the Hong Kong Financial Forum (HAF), the film made its debut at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival in September, where it picked up the Netpac Award.

The Third Wife has since picked up awards at other festivals, including those held in Chicago and San Sebastian, and has been met with wide critical acclaim. The Hollywood Reporter's reviewer Neil Young wrote that the film was "sensitively poetic and tremulously delicate to a fault."

The ruling Communist Party of Vietnam has a long history of censoring films that touch on subjects it finds morally, socially or religiously sensitive, or ones it considers too violent. Hollywood hits such as The Hunger Games (2012) and Sex in the City (2008) have in the past been banned from screening in the country.

THR has reached out to the filmmakers for comment.