De Mai Tinh 2 (Let Hoi Decide), a slapstick comedy with a self-identified transgender woman in the central role, has become the top grossing film in the country.
It earned US$3.85 million – a huge sum for a Vietnamese feature – in over two weeks since it was released on December 12 and on 70 screens across the Southeast Asian country.
Co-produced by South Korean giant CJ Entertainment and Vietnamese partner Chanh Phung Film, the film is a sequel to its successful 2010 precursor De Mai Tinh (Fool For Love).
Directed by top Vietnamese filmmaker Charlie Nguyen (Teo Em), it stars popular actor Thai Hoa who plays Pham Huong Hoi, a campy transgender woman in the lead role.
Although the character is said to self-identify as a transgender woman in the film – a source in Vietnam who has seen the movie told Gaystarnews, she however also refers to herself as ‘bong’ (gay) and presents as a flamboyant and effeminate gay man commonly seen in Vietnamese and Thai cinema.
Hoi is described by The Guardian as a ‘transgender entrepreneur whose dreams of building a business empire go disastrously wrong when he [sic. The article goes on to refer to the transgender woman character using male pronouns.] falls in love with a heterosexual [male] artist and embarks on a convoluted mission to win his heart.’ It adds, ‘Slapstick ensues.’
Vietnam’s Tuoitrenews reports that while gay and transgender characters are increasingly seen in local feature films in recent years, LGBTI people are saying in social media that the character in the latest film is offensive, and humiliates and smears gay people through overacted actions and expressions.
The Guardian also noted that a pro-LGBT rights Facebook group Toi Dong Y (I agree) has marshalled its 83,000 followers to protest against De Mai Tinh 2. ‘Transgender people have been attacked and judged too much already; do not attack them again with mockery,’ it said following the film’s release. ‘Don’t erode the dignity of others in order to generate revenue.’