Vietnamese movies take baby steps into international market

By Long Nguyen   June 6, 2021 | 09:50 pm PT
Vietnamese movies are increasingly watched in other countries, but winning hearts and minds globally is no easy task, and the trick lies in finding better scripts.

On May 28, Vietnamese blockbuster ‘Bo Gia’ (Dad, I’m Sorry) hit theaters in the U.S. and Australia after being released earlier in Singapore and Malaysia.

A number of other Vietnamese films too were or will be released across the globe this year.

‘Lat Mat 5: 48h’ (Face-Off 5: 48h), which released in Vietnam in April, will soon be shown in the U.S., Canada and Australia.

‘Thien Than Ho Menh’ (Guardian Angel) was sought by distributors from the U.S., Canada, U.K., France, Ireland, Malaysia, Singapore, and other markets even before its release in Vietnam.

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

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

This trend began circa 2018, when ‘Hai Phuong’ (Furie) earned VND160 billion ($6.9 million) in the domestic market and VND40 billion ($1.7 million) in the international market and was hailed by many critics. Its success abroad has been playing a part in motivating other Vietnamese movie makers to seek international releases.

‘Hai Phuong’ is the only one so far to reveal its global collections.

However, insiders claim earning money is not the main goal of international releases and it is more about enhancing Vietnam’s soft power.

"Revenues do not play a big role in the export of Vietnamese movies, because they are very low," scriptwriter Binh Bong Bot told The Thao Van Hoa Newspaper.

"The most important thing is that Vietnamese expats and worldwide audience watch Vietnamese movies and will now what Vietnamese people can achieve."

Movie critic Le Hong Lam said though ‘Hai Phuong’ and ‘Bo Gia’ gained international success, "revenues from foreign markets are not high and they help introduce the Vietnamese movie industry to the world. In the near future we can export our culture through movies."

Bitter truth

One of the biggest hurdles to global popularity for Vietnamese movies is poor quality.

"Films of good quality are not difficult to export," Luong Dinh Dung, director of ‘Cha Cong Con’(Father and Son), which has been released in 16 countries and territories such as the U.S., Italy, Uruguay, Spain, and Canada, said.

But only a small number of quality movies have been made in the last few years.

Many industry insiders admit there is a dearth of good original scripts. In the last five years remakes of 14 Thai, South Korean, Italian, and Philippine movies have hit the bull’s-eye while most original scripts have fared badly.

The Vietnamese film industry faces a crisis of lack of good scripts while public demand is getting more diverse, Ngo Phuong Lan, former head of the cinema department at the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said.

To attract foreign moviegoers, Vietnamese filmmakers need good storytelling skills but, more importantly, be able to find local stories, film director Charlie Nguyen said.

"We need to tell our own story, not the story that other international movies have told," he said while speaking at the conference in April on ‘Vietnamese Movie Industry - Sustainable Development and International Competition’.

At the event, director and consultant for Film Group of Singapore, Nelson Mok said international film distributors normally observe how critics and the domestic market react to a movie before deciding to buy it for their markets.

Nguyen said entering international film festivals and working with streaming platforms would also take Vietnamese movies to global audiences.

Nguyen Phuong Hoa, Director of the ministry’s International Cooperation Department, said filmmakers should actively participate in movie festivals so that international audiences would know more about their work.

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