Lieutenant Colonel Dương Văn Toàn
As the reality show "Beauty in Action" climbs to a leading position in Việt Nam’s reality TV scene, its scriptwriter – Lt Col Dương Văn Toàn from the Ministry of Public Security of Việt Nam – speaks to Nhân Dân Cuối Tuần (The People' Weekend edition) on bringing the image of police officers closer to the public.
Inner Sanctum: Was "Beauty in Action" born out of the need to catch up with the reality show "Stars Enlisted" of the Việt Nam People's Army?
Not really. The main purpose of writing is to diversify reality shows in Việt Nam, keeping them entertaining but also adding elements distinctive of the armed forces. All I thought about when writing it was how to create a good show, not making political or social statements. You might have noticed we have reality shows about almost all professions and walks of life in Việt Nam, except the police force.
Inner Sanctum: Is it because the public thinks it’s not suitable for police officers to go on TV because of their occupation?
It’s true that the principles we must follow and the nature of our job make us sometimes seem rigid and distant from the public. But I think everything can be adjusted, the question is how. Producers are often afraid (of doing reality shows on police) because they haven’t found approaches that can make them more interesting. Beauty in Action is one of those approaches, exploring an ‘undiscovered area’ of our job.
Inner Sanctum: Will being on reality TV shows distort the image of soldier and police officers?
We have received positive and negative feedback from audiences. Some wondered whether our portrayal of soldiers was truthful. Picky viewers said we had ‘normalised’ them and not taken them seriously. From my point of view, we have been idolising soldiers and police officers for so long. On the one hand that can be good, but on the other hand it can create prejudices. Modern TV audiences are smart. They have had a taste of everything there is on reality shows: the new, the sensational, the copycat, the boring. They know good stuff when they see it. It’s very difficult to create a show that pleases everybody. So we are always happy to receive feedback. But I want to say even though there might have been some unwanted errors on the show, it was never our intention to smear our officers or distort their images.
A scene from the reality show ‘Beauty in action’. Photo nhandan.com.vn
Inner Sanctum: What were the reactions of those who work in the police force?
We’d had a lot of trouble at the beginning of production. The force follow very strict principles and we had to try very hard to explain the project and ask for permission to film on drill grounds. Several officers had declined our invitations to collaborate when knowing we were doing a reality show. Those who agreed to participate still had to get permission from higher level officers. One almost did not make it when the shooting date was drawing close and they still had not received permission from their bosses. A lot of them were suspicious of the show since they could not picture what it was going to be like. But after the first two episodes aired, my colleagues said the officers they worked with in other provinces were very excited to see the show. And they will be happy to take part if we make another season.
Inner Sanctum: There have been prejudices that reality game shows are often “scandalous”, “sensational” or “useless”. Do you feel pressure because of that?
Reality TV in Việt Nam has exhausted formats like talent shows and dating games, so it’s true that producers have been looking for new approaches like creating spin-offs and scandals and do other things to boost ratings. This leaves a negative impression on viewers, bores them, and makes them think reality shows always go with something bad. But actually reality shows are not meant to be only entertaining but also woven with life skills, with educational purposes. I think we need a better perspective on reality TV, and Beauty in Action and Stars Enlisted are giving us the opportunity to do that.
Inner Sanctum: Can reality TV remain intriguing without scandals?
Reality TV is not meant to be scandalous. If it is a race of who can create more scandals then our shows about soldiers and police are never going to win. But we’ve got our unique points. Like I said, we’ve got reality shows about almost everyone except the police. Stars Enlisted is the only one show about the army. So the armed forces are still a potential, intriguing area to explore.
Inner Sanctum: What is your opinion on the armed forces being a subject of entertainment?
We have got a lot of literary works written about soldiers. But in the entertainment field, they are still being portrayed in a one-sided approach that lacks interactivity. The majority of TV shows about soldiers only focuses on specialised features like cracking criminal cases, crime investigation or fighting crime, forgetting that they can be portrayed in a broader, more cultural sense.
I hope Beauty in Action will lay a foundation for a more diverse and intriguing scene of entertainment shows about the police and armed forces, which will help bring them closer to the public. VNS