Big fat liars

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Vietnamese audiences were shocked this July to see that, despite the hype, businesswoman turned actress, Ly Nha Ky, and supermodel, Vu Thu Phuong, only appeared on screen for a few seconds in Hollywood film "˜Shanghai.'

The two women are the latest "big fat liars" on the celebrity circuit that has been plagued with false tales of Vietnamese actors playing important roles in foreign films.

In late 2008, Ky and Phuong stirred the public and media with their self-labeled "big opportunity in Hollywood filmdom with major roles in "Shanghai". The film, produced by Weinstein Company and Living Films and starring John Cusack, Gong Li and Chow -Yun Fat, is a drama-mystery-thriller.

Director Mikael Hafstrom's film is set during World War II and is the story of an American naval intelligent agent who returns to Japanese-occupied Shanghai and discovers that his friend has been killed. While he unravels the mysteries of the death, he falls in love with a Shanghainese woman and runs into trouble with her husband, a boss of the local underworld.

It was not the dramatic plot and famous cast that sparked local audiences' interest, however. Instead, they were curious to see how home-grown talent performed on the big screen. Imagine their disappointment, then, when they saw Ky and Phuong appear as extras in the film with no lines and no part in any of the action.

Movie-goer Huong Thuy said she didn't even recognize Phuong and Ky until somebody sitting next to her in the cinema mentioned it was them on screen. Ky and Phuong claimed that they "worked hard with the film crew, and took part in real acting in a professional film." In reality, they were shown for the briefest of moments, dancing in a cabaret before an explosive device went off and action ensued.

Fans on movie forum,, said that it was a shame and that the two beauties should learn not to inflate their roles and regale the press with such exaggerated stories. Others on claimed it wasn't their fault, saying that it was common for producers and film editors to cut scenes without the actors knowing.

At a press conference held in late 2008, Ky said she was injured by a piece of firecracker that flew at her eye in an action scene. She said the experience also taught her valuable acting skills such as how to show emotion through the eyes without talking, while Phuong "was proud to stand alongside Gong Li."

Phuong also told media that she worked very hard and took the decision not to use a stuntwoman in action scenes and Ky said she had undergone psychological treatment after an explosion during filming.

After media criticized her of grossly exaggerating her role, Ky responded on e-paper that Phuong had leaked information to the public causing her to hold a press conference where she announced her part in the film.

The norm

Such actions are seen as normal by many in Vietnam. People expect local actors to boast of their pride, happiness, excitement and even surprise when being cast in a foreign film or appearing at an international cinema festival. Accompanying the gushes of emotion is as much information as possible about their part in the overseas production.

Architect and moviegoer, Mau Huy, told Thanh Nien Weekly that he saw it simply as a form of PR and self-promotion.

This is not the first time Vietnamese audiences have been promised one thing and given another. Three years ago, singers Ho Quynh Huong and Minh Quan also caused a stir when they announced they would be starring in Korean series.

Quan announced that Korea's KBS studio had chosen him to play the role of a hot, rich boy in a series for teenagers. It ended up that he was denied his debut role. His reasons were that Korean filmmakers weren't happy with the locations in Vietnam and the film's leading female role had committed suicide suddenly.

Huong also told media she had landed a major role in a Korean series. For a long time afterwards, however, nothing more emerged and, when asked what was happening, she just said plans had changed.

Director Nguyen Quang Dung says the way local artists talk about their big opportunities is both innocent and nonsensical.

"But if they (Vietnamese celebrities) know how to control their PR, at least, they and their fans will not be so disappointed," said Dung.

He also added that artists could not be blamed for sharing their excitement with the media when invited to take part in a project, even if later, everything falls through.

"When casting, a director can meet someone and promise a great deal. It is the one who has been chosen that must keep their feet on the ground and stop themselves from getting too carried away."

Director Le Hoang recognizes that artists who usually perform on the small screen or in locally made productions have little to no chance of landing major roles in foreign films.

"When you don't know enough about the process and professionalism of foreign cinema, it is easy to delude yourself," he said.

Many other artists have also said that it is normal and expected that actors promote themselves and their projects. An actor, who asked to remain anonymous, said such PR and self promotion even helped boost careers and led to more jobs.

Model turned actor and television host Binh Minh says he will take a different approach if he is invited to star in a film.

"I will not foretell or claim anything until the project is done, whether it is foreign or local. You can't tell what will happen until you see the finished product. Your performance and how the film is shot and then edited are like chalk and cheese."

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