Making the cut

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By all accounts, Ninh Duong Lan Ngoc has arrived.

Several circuits, of fans, critics and the industry itself, are abuzz with the 20-year-old's debut performance in the box-office hit Canh dong bat tan (Floating lives). Ngoc's handling of a dramatic role as Nuong, whose apparently heartless father forces his children to constantly live a drifting life, moving from one paddy field to the next, after his wife left him for another man, has impressed everyone.

The family lives on a boat, rearing ducks and hiring out their labor for odd jobs. Nuong and her brother Dien stay away from their father, Ut Vo, as much as they can to avoid his harshness and despair. Then they save a prostitute, Suong, and adopt her as a surrogate mother. Things change a great deal after she comes into their lives, but fresh tragedies are to unfold. Suong and Dien flee and Nuong is left alone with her father, who ends up having to watch his daughter being raped by gangsters.

Also starring as the narrator, Nuong defines the movie with her sad voice and her broken-hearted eyes.

The 20-year-old junior at the University of Theater and Cinema has been overwhelmed with positive reviews from both films critics and the audience.

"I just can't believe it. It is such a great experience that a lot of people have left messages of congratulations on my Facebook page. Even famous actors and actresses and directors like Nhu Quynh and Dang Nhat Minh have congratulated me. It feels so good."

With her fresh expressiveness, Ngoc stands out in any crowd, and shines all the more because of none-too-impressive performances by other actors in the movie.

"She's very natural and her positive energy is catchy," said director Nguyen Phan Quang Binh.

During the two months of shooting the film in the Mekong Delta, Ngoc had to get up very early at 5 in the morning and work till night. "It was hard work but it was fun at the same time. I learned fishing, rowing a boat, collecting lotuses and doing daily things like the locals."

Of course, it was not smooth going all the way. "I had to perform with big names like Dustin Nguyen and Do Hai Yen and there were times I could not bear the pressure. Sometimes I felt unprepared and we had to re-shoot the scenes many times. Anyway, I did my best and learned a lot."

"The most challenging shot for me was when Nuong was raped in the field right in front of her father. She is so hurt she cannot say even a word, so I tried hard to express her broken heart with my eyes. I couldn't hold back my tears for Nuong."

Ngoc's brilliant performance earned praise from Australian director Phillip Noyce of the "Quiet American" and "Salt" fame. He said that the young actress had done a really great job and that she could become a star in the future.

The movie is adapted from Nguyen Ngoc Tu's best-seller "The Immense Fields," published in 2003. Ngoc said that she really loves the original story, the end of which she finds the most touching and impressive.

"When reading the book, I was deeply moved, imagining how lonely and hopeless the father and daughter were in the middle of the field after the rape. But the director wanted to unburden the heaviness, so you can see the happy mother-to-be, Nuong, walk through the immense fields at the end."

One of the comments on Ngoc's facebook page says it well: "Her innocence touches the hearts of thousands."

All this is not going to her head, apparently. Asked about upcoming film projects, she just smiles brightly: "I am planning to get back to school first. I know I need to learn much more. I want to complete my studies before doing something bigger."

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