Hollow performances

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Ask anyone who watched TV in the late 1990s who they remember and the answer will probably be Viet Trinh who portrayed grace and pain in the series Nguoi dep Tay Do (The beauty of Tay Do (now Can Tho).

Others will tell you about Lam Toi who played the haggard father living with his wife and baby in a field hit by bombs in Canh dong hoang (Deserted field), a film about the Vietnam War that was released in 1979.

In recent times, however, there are few actors that have acted in a memorable role. They simply haven't had the chance.

"I've been waiting [for the role of a lifetime] but so far, it hasn't come," said Mai Phuong, a young and successful actress who has appeared in several series including Trai nhay (Bar men 2007), a film about a gay man and a heterosexual couple, and Mot ngay khong co em (A day without you 2009).

According to many industry insiders, movies and series these days are made in a hurry and just to fill air time. The characters end up having no real depth to them and don't leave a lasting impression on viewers.

A young actress, who wished to remain unnamed, also expressed frustration about shallow roles she has played, but she realizes, "There is an abundance of actors at the moment. Producers and directors won't wait for anyone when there are many to choose from."

"If I turn down a role, they will find someone else to fill in."

Cong Hau, an actor who starred in several classic movies in the 1990s, also said actors and actresses cannot buck the trend.

"Audiences throughout the ages like different things. Audiences in the past liked something deep and serene, but now they may prefer more light and entertaining shows."

Hau said many young people complained about having to play similar roles film after film but they kept going regardless. "These days it's not common for an actor to wait for a good role that suits them."

So many young actors have accepted typical roles like that of a rich playboy or a poor schoolgirl from the countryside trying to make a living.

"Characters in TV series appear charming and modern, but they don't make an impression," said Ly Hung, one of top movie stars of the 1990s.

Hung said the only way actors can make audiences remember them is "to dare to refuse tasteless roles." But he also admitted that it's hard for actors these days to find a role that audiences will remember them for.

Director Le Cung Bac, known for his series Nguoi dep Tay Do and the recent Vo ngua troi Nam (The hooves of Vietnam), said "We don't receive good scripts. Audiences forget the characters in current TV series right after they've watched them."

The characters are usually created with similar personalities and the same outlook on life, Bac said.

He said series lack that necessary special something to differentiate their characters and make them memorable.

Yet the director said he didn't accept the excuse that modern television does not allow actors the opportunity to act.

Bac said actors may not get the role of a lifetime, but at least they should pick and choose instead of just playing any old role.

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