Why Tet movie 'Nha Ba Nu' dominated holiday market

By Mai Nhat   January 31, 2023 | 03:00 am PT
Why Tet movie 'Nha Ba Nu' dominated holiday market
A still from "Nha Ba Nu" movie
Comedian Tran Thanh's "Nha Ba Nu" (Nu's Family) was Vietnam’s highest-grossing film this holiday season thanks to its relatability and the fact that there weren't many other Tet releases to compete with.

The film raked in more than VND200 billion ($8.53 million) at the box office in its first week, which ended January 28.

It was the fastest home-grown film to reach the VND200 billion milestone, beating the previous record of 10 days set by last year’s Tet movie "Bo Gia" (Dad, I'm Sorry), which was also co-produced and directed by Tran Thanh.

CJ CGV, which produced Nu’s Family, said 2 million viewers watched the film through the Lunar New Year holiday, which lasted from January 20-26.

It was screened more than 4,500 times a day nationwide, another record.

One of the factors driving the film’s success was its easily relatable story about generational conflict.

Nu (Le Giang), the owner of a crab soup shop, is a stern mother facing the pressure of providing for her family. Due to heartbreaks she suffered in the past, Nu forbids her youngest daughter Ngoc Nhi (Uyen An) from having a romantic relationship.

Nhi doesn’t listen to her mother and instead dates John (Song Luan), a Vietnamese who lives abroad. The climax comes when Nhi gets pregnant and leaves her family to live with John, but soon realizes that she made the wrong decision.

Prominent film director Ly Minh Thang said the film creates a system of closely related characters to dig deeper into the theme of inter-generational trauma.

The film delves deeply into the motivations the characters, revealing how everyone claims what they do is out of love, while their actions actually push loved ones apart.

"Tran Thanh has a gift for tapping into the minds of his audiences," said Thang, who directed the hit film "Me Chong" (Mother-in-Law).

"I think the tale in the film symbolizes the majority of hard-working employees who in order to earn a living do not have the opportunity to look back at emotional family values."

Common themes

Critics have said "Nu's Family" resonated with so many viewers because its story is easily relatable in a culture traditionally bound by filial piety that is now pushing up against modernization.

The films plot weaves together stories common in contemporary Vietnam.

A strict mother doesn't let her daughter date or do things she enjoys because she can't see what the future holds. A girl wants to run away from home so she and her boyfriend can start a successful business, but she soon loses hope. The son-in-law feels guilty about having to live under his wife's family roof and turns to alcohol.

Thang said the stories flow together and build tension.

Many viewers have remarked they were able to identify and sympathize with the characters.

Lucas Luan Nguyen, a film blogger in Ho Chi Minh City, said that he cried when Nu (Le Giang) and her daughter Ngoc Nhi (Yen An) fought because it reminded him of the strict rules his mother placed on him when he was in high school.

"Nu is like a lot of mothers who are loud, bossy, overbearing and want their kids to do what they want. That's how it was for kids like me who couldn’t talk to their mothers," Nguyen wrote.

Familiar and unfamiliar faces

The film's cast of well-known actors and actresses was also a major draw for moviegoers. However, the two leads weren’t the only ones who stood out. The supporting cast also shined throughout the film.

Song Luan as John, Ngoc Nhi's overseas Vietnamese boyfriend, was able to generate sympathy for a sometimes unsympathetic character.

The wily grandmother Ngoc Nga, played by stage actress Ngoc Giau, stands out with her soft chuckle and how she treats her grandkids in her own unique fashion.

Some detractors have said "Nu's Family" focuses too much on "preaching" morality and life lessons.

However, several quotes from the film have gone viral on social media.

"In a relationship, it doesn't matter who is right and who is wrong. The scariest thing is that each partner has a different point of view. They quietly hurt and leave each other," is one that seems to have cut particularly deep for today’s Vietnamese audiences.

Another line that has spoken to the hearts of young people is about life and learning: "School taught me the lesson first and then made me practice. But life forces you to practice first and then learn from your mistakes."

Tran Thanh (first row, third to the left) poses with the audience at a cinema in HCMC on January 22, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Nam Nguyen

Tran Thanh (first row, third to the left) poses with the audience at a cinema in HCMC on January 22, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Nam Nguyen

The film’s producers and distributors also employed clear, methodical and successful public relations tactics to build hype.

The film’s premiere event on January 11 was strategically promoted on TikTok.

Every day after the film's release, Tran Thanh and his team held meet-and-greets with moviegoers in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Da Nang and other cities. Tran Thanh also promoted the movie to his 18 million social media followers.

This Tet’s low level of box office competition also contributed to the success of "Nu's Family".

Nguyen Hoang Hai, content director of the CJ CGV cinema complex enterprise, said that compared to last year, when five Vietnamese films competed in the "Tet race," Tran Thanh had a lot less competition this year.

Chi Chi Em Em 2" (Sister 2), a sequel to a 2019 movie, was the only other Vietnamese movie that hit the big screen this Lunar New Year holiday.

Additionally, the massively successful blockbuster "Avatar: The Way of Water" had begun to lose steam after a month in theaters before Tet.

As a result, Tran Thanh managed to beat off low-budget foreign movies "The Amazing Maurice", "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" and "Mummies."

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