She had been a supporting actress, emcee and model for years, but Thai Nha Van had never been noticed like she was when parts of a photo collection called "Nude để thiền' (Nude for Zen) was leaked.
The photos feature Van in the nude trying to seduce a "monk' - Hue Phong, who claims to be a geomancer. Ignoring the girl's tempting body and lewd mien, the monk remains in meditation under a tree, his eyes closed.
The photos are said to be part of Hue Phong's Thoat (Escape) project, which includes paintings, films and photographs that depict a Buddhist monk's escape from lusting after women.
Despite serving the theme of human domination over infatuation, the photos, taken by doctor and photographer Nguyen Trung, have been criticized heavily for its "vulgar" delineation of religion in Vietnam, a devoutly Buddhist country.
Thich Thuan Nghia, chief secretary of Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province's Buddhist Managing Committee, told the press that Hue Phong, a Buddhist, is not qualified to represent a monk in the photos. Nghia insisted that Phong's work will cause erroneous impressions of the Buddhist Sangha (community) in Vietnam.
Hue Phong (L) and model Thai Nha Van.
A monk in Quang Nam Province has said that Phong's Thoat project might have positive intentions, but the "coarse and overexposed photos have spoiled the noble Zen and the art of meditation," he said.
The monk also added that Phong has failed in trying to depict a monk's tranquil soul in front of enticement and he, intentionally or accidentally, smears the religion.
Professor Pham Duc Duong, former director of the Southeast Asia Institute said that the photos betrayed the authors, since "they do not convey soothing escape but the monk's debauchery."
"There is no such antecedent of posing for photos as Phong and Van have done in any Buddhist country," he said.
Tran Van Thong, head of Ba Ria Vung Tau's Department of Culture, Sport and Tourism, said that the photo collection was only exhibited at Phong's Thoat Art gallery since last December.
"We will certainly not allow them to show the photos at public exhibitions or the mass media," he said.
However, the leaked photos have spread online at rocket speed and turned Van into one of the most googled women in Vietnam for weeks. Netizens have also nicknamed Van Vietnam's Gan Lu Lu, a sexy Chinese internet sensation.
Van told VTC news that she had requested Hue Phong to stop the exhibition at his gallery since the photos do not meet her aesthetic expectations. However, Phong disagreed and told her that "everything has been on the right track," she said.
Van said she'd also asked Vung Tau town's police to prevent Phong from popularizing the photographs but it did not work. She said she is also planning to ask for Google's help in removing the photographs that are online.
She said she regrets taking the photos and was dim-headed in trusting Phong's sermonizing.
But Van's shifting the blame on to Hue Phong has not saved her from public criticism. Not many believe that Van is innocent in the scandal, and many say she has succeeded in fascinating the masses with her body.
In a recent interview, Van surprised the reporter from Mot va Cuoc Song (Mode and Life) magazine with her unruffled reaction to the scandal.
Van told the reporter that she pays no attention to the negative comments and will not quit her career as an actress, emcee and model, which has helped her family escape poverty, because of the scandal.
She asserted that she did not intend to use the nude photos in the "Nude để thiền' collection to become famous, since "the three leaked photos are the ugliest ones.'
"Let's consider the date. These photos were taken last September. If I wanted to publicize myself (using them), why did I have to wait until now? I spent my own money for the photography project with Phong in the hope that if the photos were good, I could earn sponsorship for some charity activities.
"But the photo collection is not beautiful and I have told Phong to stop it. I even asked the police to stop Phong from posting the photos on his website. My grandmother died on the day I met the police. I do not have to concoct my grandmother's death to be noted, right?"
Van said it was not her fault that the photos have spread so fast on the Internet.
"It is the netizens who are circulating the photos, not me. If they think the photos are dirty, why they don't just skip or remove them? If I want to use nude photos to leap to fame, I will take them myself, instead of using such a sensitive, religion-related issue like this."
Despite Van's frank confidence, many netizens still say the model is mature enough to take responsibility of her actions instead of blaming others. Some also commented that Van used to be a nude model, so getting naked was "already part of her job."
Local newspapers also pointed out that intentionally leaked nude photos have become more and more common in Vietnamese showbiz, followed by the models' accusations and lamentations that they are the victims.
Before Van, models like Ngoc Quyen, Mai Hai Anh, Chung Thuc Quyen, Diep Lam Anh, Kim Cuong and Minh Trieu have also boosted their "value," and obtained widespread media attention with nude pictures of themselves.
Some of them have also claimed to have posed in the nude for positive goals. Quyen and Anh did so to convey the message of "saving nature," they said, but claiming lofty intentions have not convinced many.
Critics have commented that going nude seems to be a ploy to make a comeback to showbiz or prop up a sagging career somehow.
Whether such objectives are achieved or not, only time can tell, but, for now, the mere attention it gets seems to be motivation enough, and in a tough, competitive industry like showbiz, the example that the "nudists" have set is likely to be followed by more women daring to bare.