Box office bomb: A scene from the film Ky Uc Dien Bien (Dien Bien Memory), for which special explosive effects were created.— VNS Photo
HA NOI (VNS)— A tragic blast last week caused by the unsafe storage of explosives used in movie special effects has once again raised concerns about the safety of the equipment and props used in Vietnamese film productions.
Two explosions went off in the home of special effects expert and studio director Le Minh Phuong last Sunday, killing 11 people – including Phuong, five family members and five neighbours.
Since the accident, a number of film producers have admitted that creating realistic explosions in their films, especially ones set during war, is one of their biggest and most risky challenges.
TNT explosive compound is popular.
Director Phan Hoang recalled how nervous he was when his film crew shot the movie Anh Hung Nguyen Trung Truc (Hero Nguyen Trung Truc). "To film a scene depicting French soldiers being hit by bullets, we put a small metal plate on the chest of every actor, then a pinch of explosive compound on the top. Whenever I called ‘action', the explosives technician conducted a wire to create a small blast.
Although the resulting flame was very small and just enough to lick the actor's costume, we had to acknowledge the possibility of danger." Chastened by the experience, Hoang insisted on using computer technology to create the explosions in his later movie Binh Tay Dai Nguyen Soai (The Great General Binh Tay). "Although the expenditure for using CGI is almost double, it is completely free from danger," he said.
For stuntman Tuan Anh, several large scars over his body act as a constant reminder of the dangers of his profession. He received several burns during the filming of the historical epic Huyen Thoai 1C ( Legend 1C).
"We had set up to film a shot where there would be some blasts. Four 2.5kg TNT explosive shells were placed around me from two metres to four metres away. I felt my heart squeeze tightly after the first explosion.
By the third blast my brain was going haywire, I no longer really knew where I was. The fourth blast covered my arm in flames and I was burnt all across my body," Anh recalled. He was sent to hospital immediately after the shot.
The acclaimed Vietnamese-American director Charlie Nguyen was shocked when told that TNT is still used to create explosions and fire effects in many Vietnamese productions. "Despite the cheap price of TNT, I refused to use this dangerous compound in my 2006 movie Dong Mau Anh Hung (The Rebel). Instead, I decided to buy specific non-antipersonnel chemical compounds in Thailand, which were then mixed with cement.
When this mixture exploded, it just created a small ‘boom' sound together with a dust cloud." Nguyen said that Vietnamese law does not heavily regulate the use of explosive materials in the film industry. However, Government Decree 25 does specify that Vietnamese film studios may only use primitive weapons as props, and the use of explosive military compounds is forbidden.
Despite this, studios have continued to flout the rules."Many film studios still use the banned materials, despite the decree that was issued in May 2012," admitted Vuong Duc, director of the Viet Nam Film Studio.
Safe or sorry?
For many reasons, including limited budgets, most Vietnamese film studios do not currently meet safety requirements when creating scenes that require blasts and explosions. "The only reason why explosive technicians continue with their dangerous job is because they love their work and creating realistic scenes," said studio designer Ma Phi Hai.
Fellow designer and effects technician La Quy Tung said that he no longer wanted to work with Vietnamese film crews as most of them do not appreciate the significant and risky role played by explosives technicians.
He revealed that the job of explosives technician is not officially classified as a profession in Vietnamese cinema and explosive and flame effects are not a main subject at filmmaking schools. According to director Nguyen Thanh Van, the creator of the ill-fated Huyen Thoai 1C, the use of TNT and unsafe equipment definitely has dangerous consequences.
He added that the lack of trained explosive technicians is another major concern. "Most the current technicians have learnt from each other or taught themselves," he said. "To avoid any future accidents, the popular TNT compound should be replaced by other specific compounds created only for controlled use in filmmaking. Computer special effects should also be popularised." It is widely hoped that the tragic blast on Sunday will provide the wake-up call the industry so desperately needs. — VNS