Competition or cooperation? A pandemic rethink for Vietnamese moviemakers

By Long Nguyen   March 19, 2021 | 05:30 am PT
Vietnamese movies are rushing to the cinemas after a prolonged blanking out by Covid-19, but the resultant stampede could crush some at the box office.

With several things, including audience behavior, having changed, experts are advising that it might be more prudent for domestic filmmakers to cooperate instead of competing with each other.

This month, two blockbusters, "Bo Gia" (The Father) and "Gai Gia Lam Chieu 5" (The Last Eggs 5), are competing in cinemas nationwide to win audiences after the latest Covid-19 outbreak postponed their premieres.

While "Bo Gia" has become the first Vietnamese movie to rake in VND200 billion ($8.69 million) in domestic cinemas, "Gai Gia Lam Chieu 5" has earned more than VND30 billion.

In April, 11 domestic movies are slated to hit the big screen: "Song Song" (Glitch), "Vo Dien Sat Nhan" (Faceless Killer), "Lat Mat: 48h" (Face-Off: 48h), "Kieu," "Rung The Mang" (Survive), "Dan Choi Khong So Con Roi" (Senior Playboy, Junior Papa), "Chia Khoa Tram Ti" (The Hundred Billion Key), "Bong De" (Sleep Paralysis), "1990", "Thien Than Ho Menh" (Guardian Angel), and "Trang Ti."

Notably, on April 16 and 30, three films will be released each day.

Moviegoers at a cinema on Saigons Nguyen Du Street, May, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

Moviegoers at a cinema on Saigon's Nguyen Du Street, May, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

This is a record number of Vietnamese movies hitting local cinemas simultaneously, according to movie producer Minh Hang, who added that the rush would make big screen success much harder for filmmakers.

"The market is like a cake, the more the people, the more pieces it has to be divided into."

It has been seen that a movie's fate can be decided in a few days after its release. A successful film that attracts a lot of moviegoers will be prioritized and given more daily shows, and others will be ignored.

In January 2021, "Vo Sinh Dai Chien" (Martial Art Students' Fight) was withdrawn from the cinemas by its own producer because it was not being given enough shows by the distributors.

Also in January, several movies like "Cau Vang" "Nguoi Can Quen Phai Nho" (What We Forgot to Remember) failed at the box office.

Apart from exposure, another factor that can affect a movie's market success is changes in the audience's habits. Director Nguyen Quang Dung said that after the Covid-19 pandemic, moviegoers have become more careful and picky.

"Previously, they chose to watch one movie first and the others later; but now, they only choose the best one to watch," Dung said, adding those going to cinemas and picking a movie randomly are rare at the moment.

Producer Hang agreed, saying there have been movies that can earn hundreds of billions of dong, but there have also been those that make just VND1-2 billion ($43,276-86,552), which is a huge gap.

The average cost of a Vietnamese movie is VND15 billion, so if the movie makes less than that, producers may earn next to nothing, especially given that they have to share at least 50 percent of their revenues with distributors.

The ongoing cinema rush has promoted some filmmakers to delay their movies’ premieres.

The release of movies like "Bay Ngot Ngao" (Sweet Trap) and "Nguoi Lang Nghe" (Listener) has been postponed to avoid the fierce competition next month.

"A lot of high-quality movies will be released, so the audience has more choices. When they have to choose, they will miss some good ones," Hang said.

The movie that she has produced, "Bay Ngot Ngao," was planned to premiere on April 16, but the new release date is May 15.

"I am confident about my movie, but a party having too many dishes will only bore people," she said.

Producers of "Nguoi Lang Nghe" also think that too many movies competing at the same time is unnecessary, so rescheduling their releases will benefit both moviemakers and moviegoers.

In the long run, some experts say, moviemakers should cooperate with each other and discuss their premiere schedules to attract more viewers. They note that many movies have failed because they were not released at the right time.

Moviemakers and distributors should work to "move forward" together, said director Nhat Trung. He said cinema chains should consult with producers and keep them regularly updated about new movies hitting the giant screens, so that moviemakers can consider their release timings.

Producer Truong Ngoc Anh agreed, adding that cooperation between moviemakers was the best solution to help avoid a crowded market that reduces chances of success.

"Before we have an association linking filmmakers, I think they should save themselves by talking with each other to decide which movies should be released at the same time so that they can maximize the number of viewers," Anh said.

But producer Ly Hai, whose "Lat Mat: 48h" will hit local cinemas in April, commented that he has no choice but to introduce his movie because he is wary about a new Covid-19 outbreak that could halt releases.

"I don't think we can choose the date anymore, things depend on Covid-19."

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