Vietnamese comics provide good fodder for entertainment industry

By Kieu Anh   January 13, 2021 | 12:00 am PT
As the comic culture comes into its own in Vietnam, the entertainment industry is mining its potential with alacrity.

Several productions cutting across genres, from sitcoms to comedies to action movies, are being based on popular comic series.

A Vietnamese superhero TV series project, Chien Than Lac Hong - Mighty Guardian: Lost Avian. Photo courtesy of Chien Than Lac Hong - Mighty Guardian.

A Vietnamese superhero TV series project "Chien Than Lac Hong - Mighty Guardian": Lost Avian. Photo courtesy of "Chien Than Lac Hong - Mighty Guardian."

Some of the adaptations are going to hit the big screen soon.

For instance, "Trang Ti Phieu Luu Ky" (The Adventures of Trang Ti), a film adaptation of the comic series "Than Dong Dat Viet" (literal translation: Vietnamese Wunderkind) directed by Phan Gia Nhat Linh is scheduled for release next month.

At the Japan Comic Fes held in HCMC late last month, actress and movie producer Ngo Thanh Van announced plans for a new movie titled "Le Nhat Lan", based on an international award winning historical comic series "Long Than Tuong" (Long Than Chronicles) by Phong Duong Comics.

The movie is part of Van’s ambition to create a Vietnamese fairy tales cinematic universe with productions based on traditional tales like "Thanh Giong", "Tam Cam", "Thach Sanh", "Thang Bom" and "Son Tinh, Thuy Tinh," the stories covering different genres including fantasy, comedy and romance.

In 2018, the 24-episode TV sitcom "Loi Nguyen Tuoi 17" (Bad Luck) was adapted from the eponymous comic done by illustrator Nguyen Huynh Bao Chau. It was streamed on platforms like FPT Play and YouTube POPS TV.

While the cinematic adaptation of already popular, original comic works serves to lure viewers, it can also happen that comics adapt popular characters like superheroes or even Vpop videos.

Last December, POPS and MTP Entertainment launched a comic of 100 chapters in which the protagonist is inspired by the long white hair character in pop star Son Tung M-TP’s music video (MV) "Lac Troi"(Drifting in Minds).The MV was released at the end of 2016 and has now garnered over 233 million views on YouTube.

The project features two top comic artists in Vietnam, Nguyen Huynh Bao Chau, most known for her "Bad Luck" series and illustrator Can Tieu Hy, winner of the 10th annual International MANGA Awards for "Dia Nguc Mon" (Hell’s Gate).

The "Lac Troi" comic will be rolled out in three forms: a paperback version in June, a webtoon (digital comic) version this month and a movingtoon (a hybrid of webtoon and anime) in March.

Not just kid stuff

Although Vietnam did not really have a comic industry, it has had a large manga and anime fan following for years, including a close-knit community of thousands where members exchange information and discuss their interests.

After the successful comic series "Hero Hesman" by artist Nguyen Hung La in the 90s, Vietnam’s comics and cartoons industry did not witness any major comics projects except the popular and longest children comic to date, "Than Dong Dat Viet" (Vietnamese Wunderkind) by artist Le Linh.

A feature of the recent development of the comics industry is that the "comics are for kids" stereotype is being broken.

Teenagers and youth have been the targets of several recent comics, like "Anh Trai Toi La Khung Long" (My Brother Is A Dinosaur), "50 Sac Mau" (50 Colors), "Canh Hoa Troi Giua Hoang Trieu" (Flower of Dynasties), and "Em Muon Nghi Viec" (I Want To Quit My Job).

High school comedy "Bad Luck," by artist Nguyen Huynh Bao Chau, published in 2015, won widespread acclaim.

Nguyen Khanh Duong, founder of crowd-funding platform for Comicola, told local media: "Status sharing ‘Bad Luck’ being made into a movie has attracted more than 100,000 people who are excited. Fans have constantly been sharing updates of the series. They are really looking forward to it. I think this has a lot of potential."

"Making movies based on comics is still quite a new phenomenon in our country, but it has great potential. It is totally okay to utilize good content and make a movie out of it. This has proved a success in the U.S and Japan. So this is a right approach here, too."

Calculated risk

Despite its obvious potential, success is not guaranteed for movie adaptations of comics.

Recently, "The Adventures of Trang Ti," directed by Phan Gia Nhat Linh and produced by Ngo Thanh Van, was criticized because the protagonist’s costumes and characteristics were different from the ones in the original comic version.

Even though Van’s team explained that they did not intend to make a copy of the original in order to surprise cinema goers.

Quality and length of the comic also determine its adaptability for movies and TV sitcoms. Many popular comics are too short to be made into movies.

Illustrator Chau said some artists have to focus on earning a quick buck to support their daily lives and save up for long-term projects.

It will be a while for Vietnam’s comics and their adaptations to reach the level of Marvel and DC comics, but it has become an established trend, and is set to develop further in the coming years, according to experts.

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