Tuesday , July 16 2024

Vietnamese films struggle despite record box office growth

In the first half of 2024, eight out of the 11 Vietnamese films released reported losses, despite witnessing record growth in the domestic box office.

Independent observer Box Office Vietnam stated that by June 30, domestic box office revenues had reached VND2,751 billion (US$101.1 million), which is an increase of nearly 25% compared to the same period in the previous year.

“This is the most significant growth we’ve seen since the pandemic,” noted Nguyen Khanh Duong, founder of Box Office Vietnam.

The dynamism of the market was largely driven by “Mai” directed by Tran Thanh and “Lat Mat 7” (Face Off 7: One Wish) by Ly Hai, alongside other successful international projects. Together, “Mai” and “Lat Mat 7” earned over VND1,000 billion, making up more than 36% of the total box office share in the first half of the year.

Asian films also achieved revenue milestones, with “Exhuma” setting a record as the highest-grossing South Korean film ever in Vietnam and “Doraemon” becoming the top-earning anime in Vietnamese theaters.

Hollywood franchises such as “Godzilla x Kong” and “Kung Fu Panda 4” continued to thrive, each generating over VND100 billion in revenue, buoyed by their successful predecessors.

However, the increase in box office revenue did not translate to success for most Vietnamese films. Over the Tet Lunar New Year holiday in February, “Tra” by Vietnamese director Le Hoang was withdrawn from cinemas after just a few days, having only grossed VND1.3 billion.

In March, “Quy Co Thua Ke 2” (The Heiress 2) directed by Hoang Duy, and “Sang Den” (Light On), a film about cai luong (reform theater) directed by Hoang Tuan Cuong, also failed, losing tens of billions of dongs.

Despite featuring box office star Thai Hoa, “Cai Gia Cua Hanh Phuc” (The Price of Happiness), produced by model Xuan Lan, earned just over VND26 billion, falling short of its VND37 billion production cost. “Doa Hoa Mong Manh” (A Fragile Flower), directed by Mai Thu Huyen, made only VND430 million, the lowest of the year.

Most recently, “Mong Vuot” (Claws), the comeback film of director Le Thanh Son, was pulled after three weeks, having earned only VND4 billion against initial expectations of VND300 billion.

The repeated failures of numerous Vietnamese films suggest increasingly high audience expectations, say industry insiders. Nguyen Hoang Hai, content director at the CJ&CGV cinema chain, observed that several films flopped despite incorporating elements traditionally believed to guarantee box office success, such as star-studded casts, holiday releases, and substantial media investment.

“That showed that there is no guaranteed formula for box office success if the film is of poor quality,” he remarked.

Vietnamese director Tran Thanh remains the most successful producer in Vietnamese cinema history with Mai. Photo by TT Town

Vietnamese director Tran Thanh remains the most successful producer in Vietnamese cinema history with “Mai.” Photo by TT Town

Chau Quang Phuoc, a former media manager at a cinema chain in Ho Chi Minh City, echoed this, stating that many flops shared poor content as a common trait. Some projects, conceived years ago, seemed outdated and unappealing to contemporary audiences. According to him, many films were poorly invested in, giving viewers the impression they were watching student graduation projects.

“Additionally, fierce competition with international brands has led to Vietnamese films either being massive hits or sinking to the bottom of the charts,” Phuoc observed. “There is almost no in-between.”

The rare successes of Tran Thanh and Ly Hai underscore the importance of product quality, personal branding, and marketing strategies. Director Quang Dung pointed out that the advantage for these two filmmakers lies in their ability to tell the stories they want.

“They invest their own money, decide the budget, and if they feel passionate about it, they go all the way,” Dung said. “Moreover, they have been working in the industry long enough to attract various audience demographics and increasingly expand their public outreach.”

On July 4, during a roundtable discussion on “Connecting Film Festivals along the Coast, Opportunities for Da Nang City” at the Da Nang Asian Film Festival, Ngo Phuong Lan, former head of the Vietnam Cinema Department, noted that continuous losses in Vietnamese films have made investors wary, given the significant human and financial resources required for film production.

Although over 500 companies are licensed to produce films in Vietnam, only about 30 are actively making films, while the rest primarily focus on commercials and other projects. With a modest annual output of around 50 Vietnamese films and few box office hits, the country’s cinema is yet to compete effectively with other Southeast Asian nations like Thailand and the Philippines.

“Looking back over the years, we only have a few familiar names that are box office hits,” Lan commented. “There are no standout new figures.”

The latter half of the year promises a more vibrant and diverse array of Vietnamese films. Comedians Viet Huong and Hoai Linh are set to return in the August releases of “Ma Da” (The Drowning Spirit) and “Lam Giau Voi Ma” (Betting With Ghost).

“Ngay Xua Co Mot Chuyen Tinh” (Once Upon A Love Story), an adaptation of the eponymous book by Vietnamese author Nguyen Nhat Anh and directed by Trinh Dinh Le Minh, set to premiere in October, has garnered significant interest from fans of the author. The same month, “Co Dau Hao Mon” (A Wealthy Family’s Daughter-in-law), starring Tran Thanh’s sister Uyen An alongside Thu Trang, Kieu Minh Tuan, and Le Giang, and marking the return of director Vu Ngoc Dang, is expected to hit cinemas.

The final two months of the year will see a slew of horror films. “Linh Mieu” (Lynx), produced by the makers of “Quy Cau” (Crimson Snout), is anticipated to compete with “Con Cam” (The Sisters), the latest project from director Tran Huu Tan and the team behind “Tet O Lang Dia Nguc” (Hellbound Village).

Director and actor Huynh Lap will return with “Nha Gia Tien” (The Ancestral Home), a film he directed and wrote, featuring singer Phuong My Chi in a leading role. “Cong Tu Bac Lieu” (Prince of Bac Lieu), directed by Ly Minh Thang, will explore early 20th-century Southern Vietnam, though the cast remains undisclosed.

“Kinh Van Hoa” (Kaleidoscope), another adaptation of Nguyen Nhat Anh’s long stories, is also slated for a December release.

Many are hopeful for a brighter future for Vietnamese films in the second half of the year. Hai of the CJ CGV cinema chain believes that upcoming Vietnamese projects could help the local film industry expand its market share and achieve the highest box office revenues ever recorded.

However, Nguyen Phong Viet, a film critic based in Ho Chi Minh City, assesses that reaching the VND100 billion milestone is currently challenging for most distributors, and the market may have to wait until the Tet Lunar New Year season of 2025 in January next year for a more spectacular resurgence.

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