By Thu Anh
They risk their lives for famous movie stars yet receive little recognition.
The unsung action heroes of Viet Nam’s film industry are the stunt persons who work for low pay.
In Việt Nam, where shoestring film budgets are the norm, stuntmen and stunt women receive an average of VNĐ400,000 (US$20) per stunt.
The more dangerous the stunt, the higher the pay.
Six- or seven-metre high jumps from buildings and other sites pay VNĐ3 million ($130), while a motorbike drive over a car commands double that amount.
“The job is like an adventure, because working conditions are particularly dangerous and we lack safety equipment,” says Quốc Thịnh, founder of the Quốc Thịnh Stunt Men Club.
Thịnh, who has more than 24 years experience, tries to perform his stunts in a single take to save production costs.
Falls from four or five metres require cardboard boxes placed underneath to cushion the fall. Some of the stunt actors have broken their legs while jumping.
“I escaped death when my safety belt broke when I was at a height of 57 metres,” Thịnh recalls.
Stunt actresses also appear in local films.
Thinh’s younger female colleague, Phi Ngọc Ánh, was the stand-in for three actresses in dangerous scenes in Gai Hồng ( Rose’s Thorn ), a kung-fu and comedy film released last year.
She broke her collarbone jumping from a three-storey house. In the film, she can be seen performing a daring five-metre-long motorcycle jump, three metres in the air.
Thịnh has worked with foreign film producers in Hong Kong, India, Thailand, South Korea and the US, who have praised the bravery and skills of Vietnamese stunt persons.
"Only stuntmen in Việt Nam can do these dangerous scenes in very poor conditions,” says actor and film producer Lý Hùng. “Not only are they very good at martial arts, but they are very brave. They risk their lives for film."
Hùng has worked with members of the Nguyễn Du Cascadeur Club, sponsored by the HCM City Cinematography Association, in scenes from Red Sea Pirates (Hồng Hải Tặc) a Hong Kong film starring Vietnamese and Hong Kong actors.
Scenes for the film were shot in Hong Kong and Việt Nam in 1995.
In Việt Nam, the French word cascadeur is used to describe stuntmen and stuntwomen, as there is no equivalent word in Vietnamese.
Founded in 1992, the Nguyễn Du Cascadeur Club was the first of its kind in Việt Nam. The club’s 45 members offer training to young people who are serious about pursuing the profession.
HCM City has about 70 stunt persons who are all skilled athletes, gymnasts or martial artists.— VNS