A lost art in the rest of the world, dubbing is still common practice in the Vietnamese film industry
Actress Minh Hang (L) and actor Minh Tiep provide Vietnamese voices for the US-produced cartoon "˜Rio'. The dubbing, according to Vietnam's movie industry insiders, has contributed to the success of the cartoon's release in Vietnam.
Dubbing became history in leading movie-making countries over 40 years ago, but it is still the first choice for many filmmakers in Vietnam, especially for TV serials.
Among several overseas Vietnamese in the moviemaking industry - for whom Vietnam has proved fertile ground for more than a decade now - it is a deadweight process that induces much head scratching.
Le Van Kiet, an overseas Vietnamese director, said dubbing is what "puzzles me the most while making films in Vietnam."
Kiet said he was not taught dubbing techniques in the US and will only make films with direct sound recording.
Leon Quang Le, a Broadway performer, said dubbing is the most "unreasonable thing" in filmmaking in Vietnam. He said he does not understand the need for one person to perform the character and have another person do the character's talking.
But according to many movie producers in Vietnam for whom low investment is a way of life and low quality of actors (or their voices) does not allow direct sound recording, dubbing is still a vital part of raising the quality of a film, notes The Thao & Van Hoa in a July report.
During the filming, many local actors have to be prompted as they do not remember their lines. They are offen told how to act even during the shot and these sounds cannot be recorded into the film, the producers said.
Actor Tan Thi said dubbing has actually saved many Vietnamese films, given that the speech of many actors lack emotion, that they do not remember their lines or they do not have the right accent.
Thi said dubbing artists need to be very skilled as they have to speak in a voice that suits the characters' emotions and deliver the words in sync with the actors' lip movements.
Sometimes the actors create new lines during their performance which are not in the script, making it even more difficult for the dubbing artists, he said.
Mong Van, a former actress and famous dubbing artist in Ho Chi Minh City, said foreign films aired in Vietnam are not dubbed because the script and the actors' performances are already good.
But dubbing in a Vietnamese film is "a creative job," Van said.
When the actors' voice is bad or their performance is stiff, which is not a rare occurrence, "the dubbers have to bring the actors up to the stature of the characters," she said.
Lan Huong, a film producer, said that dubbing is a good choice for many producers in Vietnam because the technology protects the film production from being spoiled by other sounds at the studio, like prompts.
Casting becomes easier as the producers do not have to find artists who can both act and have a good voice with a suitable accent, she said.
"Just imagine that a film is screened with the speech not going along with the characters' lip movement, and the emotions expressed by the voice do not suit the character.
"Now we can see the importance and impact of dubbing artists," Huong said.
The box office hit Giao lo dinh menh (Inferno) released earlier this year lost some of its impact after many local viewers said that they felt funny on hearing the "unsuitable" voice of model-turned-actor Binh Minh during a scene of high tension.
In Vietnam, many people say dubbing had its heyday during the 1990s. A lot of Hong Kong and Taiwanese films were imported then and dubbing artists like The Thanh, Bich Ngoc and Trung Chau had a lot of local fans.
However, TV viewers these days have been complaining a lot about the sound quality of films aired on local TV channels.
According to several film industry insiders, low payment and staff shortages have turned the dubbing vocation into a disaster area.
No official statistics are available for the number of people working as dubbing artists in Vietnam, as the job is not listed as a career.
There are around ten groups of dubbing artists working in HCMC, the country's hub for TV series production, industry insiders say.
Vietnam has more than 100 television channels that broadcast nearly 40,000 episodes every year, following a government order that televisions have to save at least 30 percent of airtime to screen local productions.
As many of the films need dubbing, viewers say they have to listen to the same voices on different TV serials.
Some viewers have complained they know how the films would sound even before tuning in to them.
Actress Mong Van said that Vietnam only has around 30 dubbing artists with sensitive and emotive voices.
Most of the others are students from performing and arts schools where they were not trained well, she said.
Chau Tho, a scriptwriter and a film studio director, said that as the supply is small, film producers cannot be picky and have to use who they can find, and often end up getting a bad product. Sometimes they have to delay the film release just to fix the sound, he said.
There is not much motivation for dubbing artists to do well because not only are they paid very little, but they never receive any recognition.
Xuan Tam, a stage manager in HCMC, said that the names of the dubbing artists only pop up for around five to ten seconds at the end of the film.
He said many dubbing artists have a mindset that says: "Well, just get the job done and take the money."
This has earned a bad name for those who still work hard, he added.
He acknowledged that the payment was low while the work was not that simple.
It's a "thankless" job, he said.