Đời SốngVietnam

Police disrupt popular R-rated movie to check viewers’ ages

Police officers paused a movie and turned on the theater lights to check the ages of cinema-goers at a Ho Chi Minh City screening of the popular Vietnamese film “Mai,” which is rated “18+” because it features several sex scenes.

No underage viewers were found, but the Feb. 26 disruption prompted heated debate on social media and showed that Vietnam’s new Cinema Law – which imposes administrative fines for underage viewers – may present some enforcement challenges as the country’s movie industry grows.

The law’s sections on establishing a ratings system, categorizing films and offering warnings for viewers about explicit material were clear in offering implementation guidance, a lawyer from Hanoi who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons told RFA. 


“But the regulations on the monitoring of and administrative fines on viewers with inappropriate age at movie theaters are unrealistic and still not clear in terms of authority,” he said.

‘Vibrant market’

Vietnam has several hundred theaters nationwide that show movies from Hollywood and other internationally-produced films that are dubbed into Vietnamese. 

Theaters also show movies made in Vietnam – some of which are funded by the state and are usually focused on historical topics for propaganda purposes. The government has said it hopes to promote homegrown cultural offerings, such as films made in Vietnam.

Vietnam has “a vibrant market that has seen stellar post-pandemic recovery” that pairs well with “a young but dynamic” local filmmaking industry “that is experimenting with new genres and making a wider range of film,” Deadline Hollywood said in an article about the country’s movie industry last month.

“Mai” was released last month at the beginning of the weeklong day of Tet holiday, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. It quickly proved to be a box office success.

The movie “revolves around the life of a 30-something massage therapist” who meets a younger man who develops a crush on her, according to VN Express. It was rated as “18+” – meaning that only moviegoers 18 and older could buy a ticket.

Mistaken protocol?


Police entered an auditorium of Cinestar Quoc Thanh Cinema in Ho Chi Minh City at around 7 p.m. on Feb. 26, state media reported. 

The inspection was in line with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism’s recent dispatch that requested culture authorities in cities and provinces strengthen the inspection and monitoring of the new cinema regulations.

The ministry’s dispatch also cited recent local media reports that some movie theaters weren’t checking IDs during ticket sales, making it possible for viewers under 18 to buy tickets and watch “Mai.”

“Responsible forces conducted a sudden inspection but did not find any underage viewers at the screening,” a Cinestar Quoc Thanh Cinema’s representative was quoted as saying by the Dan Tri (People’s Knowledge) online news outlet.

But the pausing of the movie at Cinestar Quoc Thanh cinema wasn’t based on what’s written in the law, the lawyer from Hanoi told RFA. “Instead of inspecting the operating process of the cinema, they checked viewers’ identifications,” he said. 

Article 19 of the Cinema Law, which went into effect in January 2023, states that cinemas shall ensure viewers are of the right age according to film ratings.

Article 47 of the law states that provincial People’s Committees have the responsibility to “inspect, settle complaints and denunciations, and handle law violations in cinematographic activities according to their jurisdiction.”

Another government order – Decree 38, issued in 2021 – covers how to handle administrative violations in the fields of culture and advertising.

Permitting audience members to watch movies that are not age-appropriate can result in a fine ranging from 30-40 million dong (US$1,200-1,600). Any profits obtained from such actions can also be confiscated, according to the decree.

‘An uncultured act’

Dinh Thuan Ngo, who worked as a lawyer in Ho Chi Minh City before migrating to the United States, told RFA that the cinemas themselves should be the ones to enforce age requirements for certain films, such as by checking identifications when tickets are purchased.

“In this 21st century, there are many civilized ways in accordance with international standards that the authorities can take rather than that barbaric act,” he said, referring to the Feb. 26 inspection. 

“Entering in such a way was an uncultured act,” he said. “They claim to be people of culture but did not behave as people understanding culture and in a cultural environment.”

Ho Chi Minh City resident Nguyen Dan agreed, saying on Facebook that the authorities behaved in a rude manner. 

“The fact that the police rushed into the film auditorium to inspect whether there were any viewers under 18 must be seen as a big deal,” he said. “The police cannot act so rudely in a country that [claims to be] free and democratic.”

His comment was one of many on Vietnamese language social media sites that were critical of the inspection. 

But on the Facebook page Thường Dân” (Ordinary People), which generally favors the Vietnamese government, one user said in a post that it was not a coincidence that “all countries around the world have regulations on the age at which people can access feature films on television or in cinemas.”

“When a film is labeled 18+ because it contains many violent images, foul language and steamy  scenes, it should only be accessed by viewers at the age of 18 or over,” the author wrote. 

“Was it a prevention of people’s cultural entertainment activity when an interagency working group, including the police, inspected cinemas when it was reported that children (people under 18) had been allowed to watch the movie?”

RFA sent an email to seek the Cinema Department’s comments on the inspection at Cinestar Quoc Thanh cinema but did not receive an immediate response.

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.


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