Vietnamese films hold no candle to foreign blockbusters despite home advantage

By Phan Anh   May 4, 2018 | 06:00 am PT
Vietnamese films hold no candle to foreign blockbusters despite home advantage
People line up to buy tickets at a cinema in Hanoi on April 30, most expecting to watch the new Avengers movie. Photo by VnExpress
Vietnamese movies only accounted for a quarter of the industry’s earnings last year.

Ho Chi Minh City's cinemas were buzzing over the holiday weekend as people took of advantage of the break to chill out and catch a movie on April 30, Vietnam's Reunification Day.

It was clear from the get go that there was no place for Vietnamese films at the theaters, with many people fighting for seats to watch foreign movies, including "Avengers: Infinity War."

The film showcases an all-star cast of superheroes who join forces to save the universe from a supervillain alien.

Tickets went on sale on April 20, and sold out in a flash. Social media was abuzz with people who had not seen the film warning others not to spoil the content. Memes about the movie characters spread like wildfire over the Southeast Asian nation’s cyberspace.

The "Avengers"' triumph over Vietnamese films extended far beyond the hype it built among Vietnamese moviegoers, it also broke box office records.

Out of the 50 screnings at CGV's Su Van Hanh Street theater in one day, 27 showed the "Avengers."

In just five days from its premiere on April 25, the movie made a record VND100 billion ($4.46 million).

While the Hollywood blockbuster is having the time of its life in Vietnam’s cinemas, domestic movies aren’t faring so well.

"Lat Mat 3," the third installment of a comedy series about three Vietnamese orphans trying to find their families, only had eight screenings that day. Another Vietnamese movie, romance-drama "100 Days With You," only had three.

"Avengers" isn’t the only foreign film to have made show-stopping performances in Vietnam’s theaters. Last year, "Kong: Skull Island," a reboot of the classic Kong movie franchise, also made local headlines in March when the movie broke the record for highest-grossing film in Vietnam, after making VND150 billion ($6.69 billion) in two weeks.

Foreign blockbusters stomping domestic films in Vietnam isn’t just a holiday fling; the trend has been apparent for a long time. Vietnamese movies only generated about VND812 billion ($36.25 million) out of the VND3.2 trillion ($145 million) the film industry made in the Southeast Asian market last year, as reported by the Vietnam Cinema Association during a conference in Hanoi last year.

Huynh Son from HCMC said he has seen "Avengers" four times, and would watch it again.

"I loved Avengers. I don't really care if it's a Vietnamese or Hollywood film, I only care about the quality. If it's the better one, I'll watch it," Son said.

"All my friends have watched it too, so I figured I should just jump on the bandwagon," he said.

Vietnamese film industry insiders yet want some government's protection.

Producer Truong Ngoc Anh said that cinemas would obviously increase the number of screenings for movies with strong openings in order to make a profit, as reported by local newspaper Tuoi Tre. With budgets of millions of dollars and upwards, Vietnamese movies stand no chance, she said.

“If Vietnamese films cannot avoid foreign blockbusters, they will not perform well,” Truong said.

Nguyen Phong Viet, a Vietnamese veteran in the movie industry, said there should be a maximum cap of 40 to 60 percent of the total number screenings of foreign movies in local cinemas.

"This is necessary for our movie industry. To compete with foreign blockbusters is very difficult," he said.

“Movies aren’t just a commodity like food or clothes; they also contain the essence of a nation’s culture, and cultures are very vulnerable. If we cannot protect our own film industry, we will only end up copying other cultures. That would be as bad as dying,” Dao Ba Son, a movie director, told Tuoi Tre.

VnExpress asked Vietnamese readers whether the government should impose protectionist policy in the film industry. Around 1,600 people have responded and 82 percent of them voted "No."

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