Author: Trịnh Minh Phương
Vietnamese film industry sees Tet holidays as the perfect time for blockbusters to hit the screens, but now the box office rules there’s no space for more cutting edge cinema, says Minh Phuong
Just as Hollywood blockbusters line up against each other for a slice of the box office at the start of summer or over Christmas, film producers in Vietnam often eye the Tet holiday with competitive zeal. Most film studios would only produce one or two films a year, so lunar new year is considered the perfect time to cash in on the entire population’s holiday time.
As ever the big players are Thien Ngan Galaxy and Phuoc Sang film companies. Extensive advertising by Galaxy’s for Nu hon than chet (The kiss of Death) has already caught the public’s imagination and with heartthrob action hero Johnny Tri Nguyen, supermodel Thanh Hang and a string of cameos from Vietnamese celebrities it’s sure to be a mega-hit. The film is certainly aiming for broad appeal. Director Nguyen Quang Dung describes the film as a mixture of romance, comedy, martial arts with a little bit of horror thrown in for good measure.
“I caught the pre-screening of The kiss of Death at Megastar Cineplex and its highly commercial. The audience will laugh while watching it but afterwards will forget everything,” says Huy Hung, one film fan with a fondness for more intellectucal themes.
But film companies would rather appeal to the masses that recieve plaudits from film festivals.
Phuoc Sang Studio’s big hope this year is Phat tai, which comes from the Chinese phrase Gong xi Fa cai, as in Happy New Year.
After a series of successful films over Tet in previous years, film critics have joked that Phuoc Sang is said to have more sharp businessmen than talented filmmakers on their books. Either way the whole company will be banking on the attractive qualities of Kim Thu and Truong Ngoc Anh, who both feature in the comedy.
But perhaps the most hotly anticipated film of the year will be Thu Tuong (The Prime Minister) produced by Giai Phong Film and directed by Le Hoang, who is well known for his film Gai nhay (Dancing girls) and clearly a man with an eye for how to make a blockbuster.
Politics has always been the great untouchable subject for Vietnamese cinema, so even before its release The Prime Minister and Le Hoang have been the talk of the town.
The more discerning critics of film buffs may sigh at his penchant for commercialism but Le Hoang knows that the audience votes with their feet and the queues will be no shorter for Thu Truong when it finally hits the screen.
Another potential blockbuster Em muon la nguoi noi tieng (I want to be a star), produced by the Vietnam Cinema Association, will bravely feature no stars or celebrities. However with a low budget for production as well as advertising the film may struggle against The First Kiss and Phat Tai.
It wasn’t until 2003 that the blockbuster Gai Nhay marked a turning point for Vietnamese cinema. The film industry had hitherto produced more art house films or conservative dramas, but Gai Nhay with its controversial subject matter hit a home run with young Vietnamese audiences.
Success at the box office is the be all and end all for film production companies and ever since Gai Nhay even state-owed film companies have changed tact. The cornerstones of a successful film are sex, martial arts, comedy and crime. In some cases, such as Nu hon than chet, a film will try to fit all four in.
Many film critics will be aghast that Le Hoang’s template is now dictating the course of Vietnamese cinema.
“The producers always say that their films aim to surprise and excite audiences but I doubt that. Phuoc Sang and Thien Ngan Galaxy films will again lead the charge and the films will be similar to last year’s romance and comedy films,” says Thu Thuy, an apathetic young cinema goer.