Cinemas reopen, but studios remain wary of Covid, defer releases

By Dang Khoa   December 30, 2021 | 12:30 am PT
Many studios have pushed back film release dates yet again due to the uncertainty caused by Covid and to avoid going up against some Hollywood blockbusters.

Many cinemas reopened in November, and three local films were scheduled to hit the big screen this month, 'Bong De' (The Ancestral) on Dec. 24, and 'Bay Ngot Ngao' (Naked Truth) and 'Rung The Mang' (Survive) on Dec. 31.

However, only 'Survive' will be released on the scheduled date, and the other two have been postponed indefinitely.

Normally the end of the year is a fruitful time for the movie industry as film buffs flock to cinemas during the year-end holidays.

However, many filmmakers have been willing to forego this perfect release window, repeatedly putting off their release dates, wary of the rampant coronavirus and some big Hollywood movies already in theaters.

A cinema in HCMCs District 10 in December 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Dang Khoa

A cinema in HCMC's District 10 in December 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Dang Khoa

The studio that produced 'Naked Truth' said the film had originally been slated for release in April 2021, but got pushed back as the fourth wave of Covid broke out in April. It then set a December release date when some localities allowed cinemas to reopen.

But Zing newspaper quoted the studio as saying it postponed the release yet again because of insecurity caused by the pandemic.

"We had wanted to take advantage of the Christmas and New Year holidays to release the film. But with the current Covid situation and the low number of cinemas that have reopened, we don't feel this is the right time to release the movie".

Only 40 percent of cinemas in the country have reopened. After a months-long lockdown, cinemas in HCMC and some other places opened in November while those in Hanoi, Hai Phong and Can Tho cities and many other places have yet to do so.

Besides, cinemas that are allowed to reopen still cannot operate at full capacity as a precaution against Covid, causing many producers to look for a better time to release their films.

Even foreign blockbusters are not attracting big crowds since people do not feel confident enough to head back to cinemas.

Nguyen Trung Hung, a film enthusiast living in HCMC's District 3, sums up the apprehension: "I ... want to avoid enclosed public spaces. So I am avoiding going to the movies for the time being". He adds he depends on streaming services to get his movie fix.

Marvel Studios’ superhero movie ‘Eternals’ was a much awaited movie that was expected to rescue HCMC cinemas from the doldrums.

But in 21 days of screening since its release on Dec. 3, it has only collected VND16 billion ($700,000).

Other major Hollywood hits like 'Dune' and 'Venom: Let There Be Carnage’ have only collected VND2.9 billion and VND9.8 billion, according to Box Office Vietnam.

Bich Lien, owner of Mega GS cinema, said famous foreign films are faring much worse than they used to in the pre-Covid era, and this has come as a shock to the industry.

This, not surprisingly, makes local producers apprehensive about how their movies, often made at huge cost, will fare if released now.

"There are many factors I need to consider when choosing a film's release time like the pandemic situation, audiences’ preferences after the lockdown and the local and foreign films waiting to be released in theaters," Thanh Nien newspaper quoted producer Minh Hang as saying.

A Spider-Man fan arrives at the theater early to take photos next to the movie poster at the CGV Cinema in HCMCs District 7, Dec. 19, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Nhat Thuc

A Spider-Man fan takes photos next to the movie poster at the CGV Cinema in HCMC's District 7, Dec. 19, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Nhat Thuc

But even before the big Hollywood arrived on these shores, many producers deferred their release dates to avoid clashing with flicks like ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’. It is a runaway hit, accounting for 95 percent of all film screenings since its release on Dec. 17, and collecting more than VND65 billion.

It has been drawing big crowds to cinemas across the country.

But delaying the release is not some kind of panacea for local filmmakers as more and more movies, both local and foreign, are inevitably going to join the queue.

Hoang Quan, one of the producers of 'Survive', said if studios skip New Year, they only have the Lunar New Year, Valentine's Day, Independence Day, and a few other holidays left, and many Vietnamese and foreign films have already announced their releases on these dates.

"I believe audiences will support the only Vietnamese film that hits theaters on this occasion... We believe its quality will help our film win audiences' hearts."

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