For indie movies, things just got from bad to worse

By Long Nguyen   February 2, 2021 | 07:30 pm GMT+7
Independent movies continue to languish without backing from distributors and, recently, because people have changed their entertainment preferences due to the pandemic.

In January "Vo Sinh Dai Chien" (Martial Art Students' Fight), a film about some young people with a passion for traditional martial arts, was pulled off cinemas by its angry makers after just six days for the shabby treatment it got.

Its director, Thai Ba Dung, and producer, Ba Cuong, their brainchild, claimed that though it was appreciated by critics, distributors and cinemas gave it the cold shoulder because the cast and crew were newcomers.

So the movie was screened at odd hours like early morning and lunchtime, when few people would come to watch, they said.

At the same time several other movies like "Chi Muoi Ba" (Sister Thirteen, co-produced by actress Thu Trang and Galaxy cinema chain) and "Nguoi Can Quen Phai Nho" (actor Charlie Nguyen and South Korean film production and distribution company Lotte Entertainment) were released and did much better.

A still cut fro Rom. Photo courtesy of Rom.

A still cut from "Rom." Photo courtesy of "Rom."

"With many movies being released at once, distributors will of course prioritize those they invest in or produce," Dung said.

His movie lost nearly VND24 billion ($1.04 million). But his is not the first independent movie to suffer this fate nor will be the last.

In September 2020, when ‘Rom’ was introduced to Vietnamese audiences after its triumph at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea and earned nearly VND60 billion at the box office, a wave of new indie movies started hitting cinemas.

Apart from "Vo Sinh Dai Chien," there were "Sai Gon Trong Con Mua" (Saigon In The Rain) and "Hoa Phong Nguyet Vu" (The Crawler), while some others like "Song Song" (Parallel) and "Vo Dien Sat Nhan" (Faceless Murderer) have been postponed and will hit cinemas some time in 2021.

But film distributors are skeptical.

Phan Dang Di, director of "Bi, Dung So" (Bi, Don’t Be Afraid), said "most distributors are not interested in this kind of movie" when talking about the difficulties in releasing indie movies.

Ngo Thi Bich Hanh of the BHD cinema chain explained: "Vietnamese movie companies do not have the advantages as foreign ones do. We have to pay all kinds of taxes while international companies can get exemption from import taxes. Finding funding is also very difficult for us."

The crew of "Troi Sang Roi, Ta Di Ngu Thoi" (Good Morning and Goodnight), in 2019, wrote on their Facebook pages, "Oh God, our movie does not want to die!" and pleaded with the public for support after the movie flopped.

In 2020, films such as "Dinh Mu Suong" (The Foggy Mountain), ‘Thang May’ (Elevator) and ‘Sai Gon Trong Con Mua’ lost badly.

However, a recent new factor, a change in audiences’ entertainment preferences, means even the major studios are struggling.

Director Nguyen Quang Dung said, "Because of the financial situation, people choose movies they most want to watch rather than watch all like they did in the past."

Thus, even a mainstream movie like "Lat Mat 5: 48h" (Face-Off 48 Hours), directed by Ly Hai, could have few takers.

"I only wish to break even," Hai said before its release during the Lunar New Year in mid-February.

 
 
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