In the movie set in rural Vietnam in the late 19th century, a young girl becomes the third wife of a wealthy land-owner. There are sex scenes and sequences showing child-birth.

But while the film has been well-received overseas, including winning a prize at Toronto International Film Festival 2018, it has been yanked out of cinemas in Vietnam.

Audiences, reported Vietnam News, are shocked that the character is played by Nguyen Phuong Tra My, who was then only 13 years old.

Netizens have blasted Vietnamese film-maker Ash Mayfair over her casting decision.

My's mother was also slammed for allowing her daughter to be involved, with some detractors wondering if she was blinded by the pursuit of fame and money.

The VnExpress portal cited child protection experts as saying that the sex scenes could have a psychological effect on a young actress.

Mayfair told the Hollywood Reporter: "We didn't do anything wrong and we broke no law. They can't attack us on those grounds so there have been attempts to smear the ethics of the actress' mother, publishing her personal details online and saying she had sold her daughter for money."

Defending the subject matter in her film, she said: "These questions are open for debate and I have no problem with that. We talk about women's rights and we are very critical about patriarchal traditions that have been in the country for centuries."

My was reportedly selected after the director auditioned more than 900 candidates.

My, who is now 15 and was said to have convinced her parents that she could perform the role, is upset that the movie cannot be seen by Vietnamese, even as it has drawn applause elsewhere.

Hollywood trade publication Variety, in its review of the film, said: "In May (portrayed by My) and in Ha and Xuan (the other two wives), there are all the women and girls of the past who've been ignored, abused, forced into competition with one another, made to endure a degradation of spirit and a commodification of body so complete it should have resulted in their annihilation, like silkworms steaming alive inside their cocoons".

"But with The Third Wife, new talent Mayfair reclaims just a few of those silvery strands from the neglect of history and weaves them into a film so sensuous we can lose ourselves in it, but so vividly real we might also be able to find ourselves there."

Vietnam's censors have reportedly asked Mayfair to submit an edited version of the movie for screening clearance.

By Loh Keng Fatt - The Staits Times - August 20, 2019