Vietnamese Censors Ban Local Gangster Film 'Chinatown'

According to the state-backed press, the country's film regulators objected to the movie's violence and portrayal of Ho Chi Minh City as a lawless gangland.

Vietnamese gangster film Chinatown (Bui Doi Cho Lon) from director Charlie Nguyen has been banned from distribution and screening in Vietnam by the country’s film regulators.

Local newspaper the Saigon Giai Phong, an official news organ of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam, reported: “Board members of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and several related agencies have found the contents of the gangster film showing slaughter with knives, scimitars and swords without any intervention of police, residents or law forces as objectionable, and have asked Chanh Phuong Film Studio and Thien Ngan Company as well as the film’s producer to revise and make changes to the film.”

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The authorities also reportedly objected to the film’s portrayal of the Chinatown neighborhood of Ho Chi Minh City as a lawless gangland.

The film’s Vietnamese-American director Nguyen, meanwhile, told local media outlets that he has already altered the film several times -- cutting some scenes and adding others -- to try to meet the censors’ demands, but that the wholesale changes they are now requiring aren’t possible for his production team.

"We were asked to change the whole script," Nguyen said. "That means we have to start from the beginning, which is impossible for us. We don't have enough money to do it again."

According to the Saigon Giai Phong report, local production company Thien Ngan Company spent $761,904 (VND16 billion) making the film -- a relatively large sum for a contemporary Vietnamese production.  

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The Vietnamese censorship system has exhibited a somewhat inconsistent record in recent years. 

In 2010, Vietnamese art house director Phan Dang Di's debut feature, Bi, Don’t Be Afraid, was heavily censored in its domestic release after it premiered at the Cannes International Critics Week -- the first Vietnamese film to be selected for the prestigious festival sidebar. Di described the process as “very painful” and lamented the state of censorship in his country in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter at the Hanoi International Film Festival last year.

At other times the country's regulators have shown a lighter hand. 

Vietnamese-American filmmaker Dustin Nguyen, director of Once Upon a Time in Vietnam -- a fantasy martial arts film with a $2 million budget, making it the most expensive movie ever produced by the Vietnamese industry -- told THR that he's been surprised by the occasional flexibility of the country's censorship system. 

“In my experience, the censorship system here is much easier than mainland China or Singapore," he said. "For my film Full for Love (De Mai Tinh, 2010), they initially frowned upon a scene that showed two men kissing, but I sat down with them and explained how it was crucial to the two characters’ development, and they gave me an ear and I was able to get it released."

"That kind of negotiation isn’t always possible with censorship boards in other parts of Asia,” Nguyen added.