The difference in box-office performance between Vietnamese and foreign movies currently playing in cinemas cannot be starker.
While many local flicks have lost tens of billions of dong (VND10 billion = US$420,600), international titles are breaking all sorts of records.
For starters, within just four days South Korean comedy “Bong Dung Trung So” (6/45) about North and South Korean soldiers fighting for a winning lottery ticket collected VND43 billion ($1.81 million), according to distributor CJ.
This put “6/45” at the top of the charts last weekend as it broke the record by the 2020 action horror “Peninsula” as the South Korean movie with the best opening.
Re-released in 4K format, James Cameron’s sci-fi blockbuster “Avatar” garnered VND12 billion ($505,000) in four days, proving its lasting popularity even after 13 years.
Thai director Adisorn Tresirikasem’s historical romance comedy, “Nguoc Dong Thoi Gian De Yeu Anh” (Love Destiny: The Movie), based on a popular TV series, broke the record set by the 2019 romance comedy “Yeu Nham Ban Than” (Friend Zone) to become the biggest Thai hit of all time in Vietnam after raking in nearly VND78 billion ($3.28 million) over two weeks after its release on September 1.
Earlier this season Hollywood blockbusters such as “Doctor Strange 2” and “Minions 2” also managed a couple of hundreds of billions in ticket sales despite relatively smaller audience turnouts compared to the pre-Covid era.
Poor performance post-Covid
But Vietnamese movies have flopped one after another, failing to muster even a modicum of popularity and making critics anxious about local cinema prospects.
It is because, to many, despite their success, the foreign hits are not all that good though local movies are obviously terrible.
After premiering in June, Phan Gia Nhat Linh’s “Em Va Trinh” (Trinh and I) about musician Trinh Cong Son has been the only Vietnamese film this year to cross the VND100 billion ($42,070). It just broke even.
In the past three months most other local releases have turned out to be complete failures.
Director Dinh Cong Hieu’s slasher flick “Vo Dien Sat Nhan” (Faceless Killer), released in late August, about a doctor being haunted by a murderer in her dream was criticized for its “greedy” script with weak character development but too many plot twists, jump-scares, dialogues, and a forced feminist message.
It only managed to collect VND4.8 billion ($20,190) against a budget of VND16 billion ($673,110), according to cinema data analysis site Box Office Vietnam.
The only Vietnamese movie released during the September 2 holidays and the first ever to explore the zombie genre, debutant director Thanh Nam’s “Cu Lao Xac Song” (Lost in Mekong Delta) about an onslaught of people by zombies was instantly criticized for its bad script.
“Lost in Mekong Delta” was panned but its producer, Nhat Trung, has promised a better sequel. Photo courtesy of ACB Pictures
Many viewers found it superficial, simplistic and uncreative, and with unnecessary characters, sloppy zombie effects and bad acting.
But it did slightly better than “Faceless Killer”, collecting about VND12 billion ($50,680).
Kazuhisa Yusa’s “Tro Choi Tu Than” (Fatal Game), a Japanese-Vietnamese co-production about a survival reality show also with a zombie element, released on September 23, was another flop.
Attracting a barrage of negative reviews from audiences, “Fatal Game” was considered a ‘cheap’ ‘joke’ with a boring script and terrible acting though it starred well-known actor Ngo Kien Huy and actress Hoang Yen Chibi.
Many producers admit the most important cause for failure is bad scripting.
“Lost in Mekong Delta” producer Nhat Trung says his project had a bad story but also difficulties in experimenting with a new genre and shooting during the pandemic.
Other producers agree that Covid has brought fresh challenges to Vietnamese filmmakers including higher expectations for quality movies after audiences had plenty of time and opportunities to watch good movies online during the forced break.
According to CJ CGV cinema chain’s manager Nguyen Hoang Hai, local filmmakers can learn from foreign movies such as the South Korean “6/45” for their humorous and original scripts, good story-telling and wise choices of actors.
He suggests future projects should learn from previous Vietnamese hits such as Charlie Nguyen’s 2013 comedy “Teo Em” (‘Little Teo’) and Le Thanh Son’s 2017 romance “Em Chua 18” (Jailbait) which had simple and tight scripts that touched audiences’ hearts.
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