Covid-19 pandemic leaves Vietnamese cinema reeling

By Linh Do    April 12, 2020 | 06:09 am PT
Covid-19 pandemic leaves Vietnamese cinema reeling
A medical staff disinfects a CGV cinema in Vietnam. Photo courtesy of CGV.
As worldwide businesses shut to help contain the new coronavirus, Vietnam’s movie industry, especially its cinemas and producers, are left stranded.   

With the novel coronavirus threatening a global economic meltdown, here in Vietnam, cinema experts are expecting the worst.

According to Nguyen Van Nhiem, chairman of Vietnam Film Distribution Association, without timely government support, Vietnamese cinemas and private film producers may face bankruptcy en masse, weakening the fledging local movie industry. 

Indeed, Nhiem recently told local media that since February, revenues in local film distribution had plummeted by up to 50 percent compared to the same period last year.  Nhiem’s assessment reflects a wider picture of Vietnamese businesses in this time of crisis. 

According to a recent survey by the Private Economic Development Research Board of over 1,200 businesses, if the pandemic drags on for six month, as many as 74 percent may go bankrupt because their diminished revenues can’t cover salaries, bank interest, rent and other costs.      

In Vietnamese cinema, about 15 active private movie producers churn out 40 films a year on average. Since March 15, as movie theaters countrywide closed down, on-going film production has halted and movie premiers delayed, some until next year. 

Only two Vietnamese movies are still scheduled for screening in April. Meanwhile, six major releases expected to be blockbusters during the Lunar New Year (late January) or April 30/May 1 Reunification Day seasons have been postponed for screening. 

These films include "Bi Mat Cua Gio" (Secrets of the Wind); "Chi Muoi Ba: Ba Ngay Sinh Tu" (Sister Thirteen: Three Deadly Days); "Trang Ti" (Dr. Ti); "Thanh Soi" (Pain Changes People); "Lat Mat 5" (Face Off); and "Tiec Trang Mau" (Blood Moon Party). 

Well-known actress Ngo Thanh Van’s production company Studio68 is particularly affected with both high-budget projects "Trang Ti" and "Thanh Soi" delayed. 

In Vietnam as elsewhere, movie producers say in postponing premiers, they incur big losses by wasting their initial marketing investment and probably having to publicize their movies all over again.

For his part, director Tran Dung Thanh Huy doesn’t yet have a specific date for the release of his much anticipated award-winning "Rom" either. 

With considerable editing, "Rom" has just been green-lighted to be screened here after being deemed too dark and pessimistic and then fined for having taken part in the 2019 Busan International Film Festival without permission. "Rom" went on to win Busan’s prestigious New Currents Award. 

Within the next six months, there will be a dire shortage of Vietnamese movies to screen, and those that can manage will have to compete with the return of foreign blockbusters. 

For years, Vietnamese movie businesses have been clamoring for more government support because of fierce foreign competition as well as their distinctively risky cultural products that need lots of investment yet don’t easily fetch money like other kinds of goods.  

For instance, in distribution and exhibition, state-owned and private Vietnamese cinemas including major players BHD and Galaxy account for only 30 percent of market share while robust foreign chains like South Korean CGV and Lotte dominate. 

Since the novel coronavirus struck, though local film theaters remain idle, executives say they still have to pay several billion dong (VND1 billion = $43,103) every month in rent and salaries etc., and may have to lay off staff if the situation drags on indefinitely. 

Local film associations and businesses are thus urging the government to reduce or postpone VAT payments, reduce employee insurance and personal income tax, and provide preferential interest rates. 

In a March meeting, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc promised the government would provide selective financial support to businesses in heavily affected sectors.  

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