Less glitz as Vietnam’s new entertainment blitz gets more ‘authentic’

By Linh Do   February 26, 2022 | 09:30 pm PT
Less glitz as Vietnam’s new entertainment blitz gets more ‘authentic’
A still from 'Gieo Que'. Photo by Huy Nguyen
There seems to be a qualitative difference as a slew of new concerts, musical releases and movie premieres enlivens the Vietnamese entertainment scene after a long pandemic-enforced dormancy.

The social distancing periods, high death toll and resultant subdued atmosphere have prompted local musicians and singers to come up with a deeper, more "authentic" touch to their work, cutting down on glitz and glamour.

Notable shows on the entertainment scene include a series of six online solo concerts titled My Soul 1981 by My Tam, arguably Vietnamese pop’s biggest diva. This project marks the popular singer and songwriter’s comeback after the fourth wave of the pandemic hit the country last April.

Mixing acoustic, chill and low fidelity or lo-fi styles, My Soul 1981’s first two concerts in January and February attracted many fans and received positive reviews.

The ongoing series, which features both old hits and new works composed by well-known musicians and My Tam herself, fills in for the Hanoi leg of the diva’s "Tri Am" national tour that was canceled midway because of the pandemic.

Another project aiming to provide high-quality music without distracting dances or stage setups, connecting with audiences in simple, intimate settings is The Show Vietnam.

Initiated last November, The Show Vietnam features well-known contemporary singers – from older faces like Lam Truong and Phuong Thanh to younger ones like Uyen Linh, Van Mai Huong and Thuy Chi.

Directed by Thai Huan, The Show Vietnam’s first two concerts this year took place at the Independence Palace in HCMC, attracting over 800 people each time. The next show is slated to be held in March in Da Lat City.

If major live concerts are noted for their intimacy, a variety of new musical videos have been released on multiple online platforms, offering a wide range of styles and atmospheres, from Cuong Seven’s morose RnB to JDKiD’s haunting reggae to Hoang Thuy Linh’s upbeat EDM.

Released on the first day of 2022, Hoang Thuy Linh’s ‘Gieo Que’ (Casting Coins) MV remains faithful to the entertainer’s style of incorporating folk elements into its lyrics, youthful and high-end fashion and skillful choreography.

In ‘Gieo Que,’ the singer, who is a force to be reckoned with these days with her new MVs attracting tens of millions of views on YouTube, continues to explore traditional culture (visiting pagodas and coin casting for fortune-telling during Tet or the Lunar New Year festival).

Explaining her musical approach, Linh says this about her latest MV: "As a Vietnamese, I always want to tell stories, do things and make music to spread what is most familiar to me, the cultural elements that have nurtured my childhood."

Also featuring rapper Den Vau, who has attracted a big following with his witty and "clean" lyrics (compared to the genre’s typical associations with sex, violence and drugs) ‘Gieo Que’ provides a snapshot of two popular singers with a distinctive Vietnamese flair.

High-budget movies

With eight movie premiers in the first two months of the year, the local cinema industry looks to be regaining its footing, slowly.

Though no film crossed VND100 billion (US$4.4 million) in ticket sales after six days of screening typical for Vietnamese cinematic releases during the Tet season, and total revenues for local movies so far have dipped to the lowest level in the past five years, young audiences have been flocking back to cinemas after they reopened nationwide, promising a good year ahead.

For instance, director Tran Huu Tan’s horror flick, ‘Chuyen Ma Gan Nha’ (Vietnamese Horror Story), collected nearly $2.6 million in six days and the movie will premiere in Taiwan this April.

Featuring three storylines, ‘Chuyen Ma Gan Nha’ is the third horror movie from Tan’s team after ‘Bac Kim Thang’ (Home Sweet Home), another box office success in 2019, and ‘Rung The Mang’ (Survive), which premiered last December, suggesting sustained local interest in this still fledging genre of Vietnamese cinema.

With numerous projects delayed in production or screening during the pandemic, industry insiders expect a torrent of new local movies to hit theaters in the upcoming months.

Notable titles include director Luong Dinh Dung’s "blockbuster" action flick ‘578: Phat Dan Cua Ke Dien’ (578: Mad Man’s Bullet) with a whopping production cost of VND60 billion ($2.6 million) slated for release in March; and another over $2 million project, director Phan Gia Nhat Linh’s romantic film Em Va Trinh (Trinh and I) about the late renowned musician Trinh Cong Son, set to premiere in April.

Another breath of fresh air this summer is expected from director Ham Tran, whose sci-fi movie for children, ‘Maika - Co Be Den Tu Hanh Tinh Khac’ (Maika - The Girl From Another Planet), was shown at this year’s prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

Inspired by a character of the same name in the famous Slovak children's TV series Spadla z oblakov (She Fell From Clouds) that was broadcast in Vietnam in the early 1990s, Ham Tran’s movie is a co-production between private firm BHD and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism’s Bureau of Cinematography.

Besides ‘Maika,’ local filmmakers will also adapt to the silver screen two popular Vietnamese TV series of the 1990s: ‘Dat Phuong Nam’ (The Southern Land) based on the late writer Doan Gioi’s well-known novel, and ‘Nguoi Dep Tay Do’ (Southwestern Beauty).

In the historical drama segment, another fledging genre with plenty of room for exploration and improvement, supermodel Thanh Hang will play 10th-century dowager queen Duong Van Nga who marries two emperors and witnesses the turbulent transition between the Dinh and early Le dynasties in another big-budget project.

Titled ‘Quynh Hoa Nhat Da’ (The Great Orchid Cactus) this is to be screened at the end of the year.

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