Movie review: hits and flops teach some dos and don’ts

By Tam Ky   December 27, 2021 | 04:30 am PT
While the entire domestic movie industry was hit by the pandemic, hits and failures of 2021 highlighted some dos and don’ts for box office success.

Exemplifying the two ends were "Bo Gia" (Dad, I'm Sorry), which shattered box-office records while "Trang Ti Phieu Luu Ky" (The Adventures of Trang Ti) bombed badly with local fans shunning it.

With movie theaters having to close from May to mid-November, many cinema chains suffered losses of hundreds of billions of dong (VND1 billion=$43,000).

For most of the first half of the year, the domestic movie industry witnessed fierce competition on the big screen between 14 local films. Some of them seemed to get their release time right as cinemas reopened

After its release in March, actor Tran Thanh's dramedy 'Bo Gia' shattered local box-office records and achieved many milestones along the way. The movie reportedly cost VND20 billion to make.

On March 14, "Bo Gia" became the first domestic film to rake in VND200 billion in just nine days, beating the previous record holder "Cua Lai Vo Bau" (Win My Baby Back), which had earned VND192 billion after two weeks.

Cast and crew of Bo Gia. Photo courtesy of the movie.

Cast and crew of "Bo Gia". Photo courtesy of the movie.

The movie even went on to surpass international blockbuster "Avengers: Endgame" which earned a total of VND285 billion in Vietnam after two months in 2019. "Bo Gia" earned VND400 billion ($17.4 million) to become the highest-grossing Vietnamese movie ever.

After being released in the U.S. market in June, the film earned another $1 million and entered the top 10 list of grossers in tenth position after the first week.

In early December, the movie was nominated by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to compete for the Best Foreign Film category at the 94th Academy Awards, but it did not make the shortlist.

About a month after the release of "Bo Gia," director Ly Hai's "Lat Mat 5: 48h" (Faceoff: 48h) was also received warmly by the public.

According to Box Office Vietnam, an independent box office observer that analyzes cinema revenue data across the country, the action movie earned more than VND150 billion in just three weeks after its release. It was the second best-selling Vietnamese film since the beginning of the year.

With a total of four sequels, Ly Hai became the first director to have a franchise film that earned more than VND500 billion in total.

The film showcases Ly Hai's strengths in action packed scenes like martial arts, chases and explosions, but is limited in dialogue and filming technique. The way the characters talk was not natural, critics said.

Released around the 2021 Lunar New Year, "Chi Muoi Ba" (Sister Thirteen), a film produced and acted in by actress Thu Trang, earned around VND100 billion after nearly a month. It was her second film to reach this milestone after "Tiec Trang Mau" (Blood Moon Party).

Despite its success, the film did not impress critics who said a focus on the comedy element robbed it of some quality The script had many illogical errors, they noted.

Director Nguyen Quang Dung said that with movies surpassing the hundred billion mark this year, besides the stars that appeared in them, choosing the right time to release them was a major factor in their success.

However, the deciding factor for a movie in attracting audiences is still a good script, the way the content is presented and how good the storytelling quality is.

Failure to account for this saw several movies with high investments bomb at the box office.

Classic injustice

"Kieu," a movie based on Nguyen Du's epic poem Truyen Kieu (The Tale Of Kieu), bombed at the box-office, earning just VND2.7 billion compared to the VND30 billion it cost to make. It left local theaters after 19 days and had to move online to be aired on paid streaming platforms to cut losses.

The movie was meant to mark the 200th death anniversary of poet Nguyen Du. His 19thcentury epic ‘Truyen Kieu’ is a Vietnamese literary classic known for its early proclamation of feminism and other universal human values.

A still from the film Kieu

A still from the film "Kieu"

The 90-minute movie focuses on certain aspects like the love triangle between the three main characters, Kieu (played by My Duyen), Thuc Sinh (Le Anh Duy) and Hoan Thu (Cao Thai Ha).

Kieu is a talented young woman who is forced to prostitute herself to save her father.Thuc Sinh falls in love with her and plans to elope with her to the mountains. At home, after hearing that her husband has a mistress, Hoan Thu quickly investigates the affair and plans to take revenge on Kieu.

In addition to low ticket sales, the work received many negative reviews. It was criticized for its breakneck speed, unconvincing climax, low-quality movie-effects and excessive erotic focus.

Expected to follow in the steps of successful romantic drama "Mat Biec" (Dreamy Eyes), "Thien Than Ho Menh" (Guardian Angel) by director Victor Vu also failed to make an impression after hitting the cinema halls.

According to its producer, the film earned just VND40 billion after VND20 billion was spent on making it.

The film depicts the story of a young woman using a mysterious doll and black magic to become a famous music star. Later, one of her colleagues commits suicide, and she becomes a suspect. However, despite beautiful imagery and catchy music, the film had an old script line that was similar to another movie Vu had directed in 2012. The plot lacked wow factors, critics said.

Many other projects with similar capital investments also bombed, including "Sam Hoi" (Repentance), which only earned VND1.2 billion; and "Cau Vang", adaptation of a novel by famous author Nam Cao, which only managed revenues of VND3.6 billion after costing several dozens of billions of dong to make.

Released late April, "Trang Ti Phieu Luu Ky" (The Adventures Of Trang Ti), a film adaptation of the comic series "Than Dong Dat Viet" also failed to meet expectations.

A promotional poster of Trang Ti Phieu Luu Ky. Photo courtesy of Studio68

A promotional poster of "Trang Ti Phieu Luu Ky". Photo courtesy of Studio68

The movie, produced by Ngo Thanh Van and directed by Phan Gia Nhat Linh, failed to meet revenue expectations for many reasons. According to the Vietnam Box Office, the film only earned VND17.5 billion.

The film was both heavily affected by the fourth Covid wave that hit Vietnam late April and by stiff competition from films by Ly Hai and Victor Vu. It also came under the pressure of a copyright scandal.

The film cost VND43 billion to make, among the highest among Van's films ever released, relying heavily on visual effects.

Before the movie was released in theaters, many fans of "Than Dong Dat Viet" called for a boycott because its producer worked with the Phan Thi Company, which holds the copyright to the story, instead of working with artist Le Linh, father of the comic series.

The case of "Trang Ti" showed the word-of-mouth power that audiences can wield. Van said that the crew was miserable when the boycott call happened.

He rued the fact that the move was criticized because of "external factors" despite its good content."

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