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Picky viewers keep filmmakers on their toes

By Long Nguyen   January 14, 2021 | 11:46 pm PT
A more choosy audience influenced by social media reviews and other post-pandemic developments have made big screen success more elusive for Vietnamese filmmakers.

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.

Le Ngoc Hoa, a moviegoer in Hanoi, said: "After the pandemic, we have to tighten our belts. We cannot waste money on bad movies."

She said that she’d wanted to watch "Cau Vang," an adaptation from novels of famous author Nam Cao, but decided not to do after reading bad comments about the movie by her Facebook friends.

A still cut from Cau Vang. Photo courtesy of Cau Vang.

A still cut from "Cau Vang." Photo courtesy of "Cau Vang."

The word-of-mouth impact on a movie’s box office performance has become more pronounced in the post-pandemic scenario.

The senior film producer known as Poly said that after a year of upheaval in cinemas, local moviegoers care more about a movie’s content and are more prone to share their feedback on social networks.

The feedback from multiple sources, including professional critics’ comments, can make or break a movie at the box office.

Charlie Nguyen admitted that the failure of "Nguoi Can Quen Phai Nho" (What We Forgot to Remember) was his crew’s fault. The storyline was not attractive enough and the characters failed to get the audience’s sympathy.

"Nguoi Can Quen Phai Nho," a romcom directed by Duc Thinh, depicts the story of a journalist who investigates the death of her father and falls in love with a gangster.

"Why should the audience love a gangster, or a journalist writing about her father's death get a promotion? I had these questions after watching the movie's premiere in Hanoi," he said, adding that he wanted to film some more scenes, but it was too late.

Nguyen denied that the failure lay in the marketing campaign or session arrangement in the theaters, though it is typical that producers find it unfair if their movies have fewer screenings in cinemas.

"Asking for fairness in this industry is not realistic. Everyone has pressure, from producers to distributors. When a movie succeeds, who wants to reduce the number of its shows so other movies can have more? So, when a movie fails, they should not ask why it has fewer shows," he said.

"Cau Vang," another failure, raised questions among the audience about the filmmakers’ understanding of history as also the quality of filmmaking.

Based on various stories of famous author Nam Cao, the movie failed to create an accurate historical background of the Vietnamese society before 1945, in which farmers were poor and exploited by the rich, critics said.

The audience also spotted technical mistakes like bad lighting, sound and makeup.

"The most terrible movie I have ever watched in my life," movie critic Le Hong Lam commented about "Cau Vang" on his Facebook page.

Some producers have pointed fingers at film distributors for their film’s failure to do well.

The producers of "Vo Sinh Dai Chien" (literal translation: Martial Art Students' Fight) have blamed film distributor Galaxy for deliberately limiting the number of shows.

After its release, the movie was shown four times per day, at non-peak hours like 8.30 a.m., 12.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m., said Thai Ba Dung, co-producer. He talked to the distributor and was told that the new movie, which has new actors and actresses, could not be prioritized.

"Look at the low numbers of shows in Galaxy cinemas; how can other cinema chains dare to increase their numbers then?" Dung asked.

But Vo Thuy Trang, a representative of the Galaxy chain, begged to disagree. She said that it was not fair for producers to point their fingers at distributors, since the numbers of shows depended on the audience's preference.

"If the revenues are bad, the movie must give space to other movies for the cinema to do well," Trang said.

A spate of failures

On January 10, during a talk show about the movie industry in Ho Chi Minh City, film producer Charlie Nguyen said that his latest offering, "Nguoi Can Quen Phai Nho", released last Christmas, had earned just VND1.9 billion ($82,338), which was a huge failure.

Producers invested VND23 billion in the movie which went on to earn less than one-tenth of its cost, even though it starred Thai Hoa, a big name in the domestic cinema industry.

"Nguoi Can Quen Phai Nho" is not alone in its plight.

On January 7, producers of "Vo Sinh Dai Chien" decided to withdraw the movie from cinemas across the country because of low revenues, an unprecedented situation in Vietnam's film industry.

Six days after its premiere, it had made VND1.3 billion. "Vo Sinh Dai Chien" cost its producers VND24 billion and five years to make.

Another movie facing a rocky path was the $1 million budget movie, "Cau Vang." It made about VND2.6 billion after five days in the cinemas.

"Em La Cua Em" (I Am Mine), directed by Le Thien Vien, did slightly better, earning VND 7.6 billion so far, but it will need more than VND9 billion to break even.

Other movies with thin earnings include "Sai Gon Trong Con Mua" (Saigon In The Rain), VND2.9 billion; "Thang May" (Elevator), VND1.5 billion; and "Bi Mat Cua Gio" (Secret of The Wind), VND1.9 billion.

The average cost of a Vietnamese movie is VND15 billion, so these figures mean that the producers of these movies have earned next to nothing, especially given that they have to share at least 50 percent of their profits with distributors.

Vietnamese filmmakers are hoping for a post-pandemic revival this year to make up for a forgettable 2020.

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