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The rise of Vietnamese cinema: A look at five biggest films

By Vi Vu   May 15, 2017 | 04:18 pm GMT+7

Made-in-Vietnam movies are now threatening the Hollywood dominance.

In the late 2000s, making a list of top grossing Vietnamese movies would be a laughable idea.

The local box office back then was completely dominated by Hollywood blockbusters, and sometimes Korean and Chinese films, leaving a very small window for a small number of homemade productions.

But things began to change around five years ago, when the local film industry appeared to have come of age, releasing hits after hits that forced even the most skeptical of fans to change their mind.

The following top five is based on reported ticket sales as of mid-May. With a few highly-anticipated flicks on the horizon, there should be a couple shakeups as the year unfolds.

5. Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass (2015)

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A scene from "Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass"

IMDB rating: 8.0

The coming-of-age drama by prolific Vietnamese-American director Victor Vu has grossed VND81 billion ($3.57 million).

Based on an award-winning and best-selling book by young-adult novelist Nguyen Nhat Anh, "Yellow Flowers" was set in the mid 1980s in a poor central Vietnam village, telling a nostalgic story of two young brothers who vie for the attention and affection of a young girl.

The film won the Young People’s Jury Award at the annual TIFF Kids International Film Festival. It was also submitted as the Vietnamese entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards, but did not crack the shortlist.

The next rom-com adaptatation from Nguyen Nhat Anh, "The Girl from Yesterday," will premiere this summer. A recent report released by Google, based on search trends, has suggested that this will be another hit.

4. Vengeful Heart (2014)

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A scene from "Vengeful Heart"

IMDB rating: 7.4

The thriller, also by Victor Vu, is about a heart transplant recipient who starts having nightmares and visions leading to a house in the remote countryside. She then believes that the previous owner of the heart, a former resident of the house, wants her to uncover the secrets of her death.

The film was praised for straying far from the usual, cheap horror tropes found in many other Vietnamese movies.

It has earned VND85 billion ($3.75 million). It was nominated for the Golden Kite Award, considered the Vietnamese Oscar, for Best Feature.

3. Let Hoi Decide (2014)

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A scene from "Let Hoi Decide"

IMDB rating: 6.0

The rom-com, directed by Vietnamese-American Charlie Nguyen, has raked in VND101 billion ($4.45 million) as it features well-known comedian Thai Hoa.

The film is one of the rare cases in Vietnamese cimena in which an LGBT character took the center stage.

The spin-off, produced by South Korea’s CJ Entertainment & Media, came after the unexpected success for “Fool for Love” (2009), in which Hoi, a fan favorite, appears only as a sidekick.

After these two movies, Thai Hoa became a household name and a bankable star. He appeared in three films last year.

2. Sweet 20 (2015)

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A scene from "Sweet 20"

IMDB rating: 7.6

“Em la ba noi cua anh” (Sweet 20) is another rom-com that conquered local theaters quickly after being released.

The movie is a feature debut by Phan Le Nhat Linh and a remake of South Korea's "Miss Granny."

It tells the story of 70-year-old grandma who travels back in time and seeks her second chance of living a life without regrets.

The film has earned VND102 billion ($4.5 million) at the box office.

Singer-turned actress Miu Le shot into stardom after this film. She will play the leading role in "The Girl from Yesterday," already predicted as a hit.

1. Jailbait (2017)

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A scene from "Jailbait"

IMDB rating: 7.4

"Sweet 20" had been the highest grossing Vietnamese movie for more than a year, until it was dethroned by "Jailbait," a rom-com about a school girl and her scandalous love story.

The movie, whose Vietnamese title “Em chua 18” means “I’m not 18,” stars Kaity Nguyen, an 18 year-old newcomer who has stunned critics and fans with her impressive acting skills.

Nguyen’s character hooks up with a playboy much older than her after having her heart broken by a crush. The movie is rated C16 as it is deemed suitable for mature audiences only.

Directed by Le Thanh Son, the movie hit local theaters on April 28. In a remarkable feat, it surpassed “Guardians of the Galaxy” to dominate the local box office during the Reunification-Labor holiday weekend.

After more than two weeks, it has secured the title of the biggest Vietnamese movie ever by grossing VND150 billion ($6.6 million), and counting.

More importantly, that record has also made it the third biggest release of all time, only after "Kong: Skull Island" and "The Fate of the Furious."

So watch out Hollywood.