The time of such subsidies has passed. Vietnamese moviemakers now focus on profits as their top priority, and an individual’s effort is calculated by how much money one brings to a film, rather than art values.
From money-machine comedians
After working in drama theaters for a long time, it was not until he joined big-screen cinema with “De Mai Tinh” (Fool for Love) that Thai Hoa started to shine. De Mai Tinh is arguably one of Vietnam’s most profitable movies, raking in 30 to 40 VND billions (1.5 to 2.0 USD millions). And Thai Hoa has become the “gold comedian” that every film producers would want to have.
Thus, his second blockbuster “Long Ruoi” (Big Boss) was composed to make the most of this comedian’s acting talent. In order to keep him available for “Long Ruoi” before shooting, the producer pre-paid him 100 VND millions (5000 USD).
The profit of 40 VND billion (2 USD millions) that Long Ruoi brought, according to its publisher, is “out of any predictions”. And yet the film is a rather cursory entertainment movie with many mistakes in it.
Despite that, Thai Hoa still proves worthy of his “million-dollar” title. On one hand, people are attracted to see the new movie as they want to see how different he is from De Mai Tinh. And for those who love De Mai Tinh, film producers have already planned a sequel, “De Hoi Tinh” or “Cuoi Ngay Keo Lo” (Love Puzzle).
Unlike Thai Hoa, comedian Hoai Linh was well-known from short comedies in Van Son Entertainment Centre in the US before returning to Viet Nam in 1996. He has long been an idol for common viewers before going on to big screen cinema.
Thus, when it comes to the time simply entertaining, and not thought-provoking comedies for the Tet holiday, Hoai Linh has quickly become the number one choice of film investors who essentially plan on target audience as well as showing time for their films.
He is the most starred actor, even in supporting roles, in many movies such as “Nu Hon Than Chet” (Kiss of the Death), “Phat tai” (Prosper), “Cong Chua Teen va Ngu Ho Tuong” (Teenage princess and five bodyguards), and “Bong Ma Hoc Duong” (Ghost at School).
Comedian Hoai Linh (left)
He also joined this year’s movie “Hello co Ba” (Hello Ms Ba). Obviously, Hoai Linh is not always the trump-card for the success of a movie, but he is so popular in comedies that people recognize it when a movie is advertised with him in one of the acting roles.
Producers know this and keep inviting him to play a role in their “Tet movies”.
To the million dollars directors
A director whose name is usually on the top of the money-making list is Charlie Nguyen, who directed Vietnam’s first million dollar budget movie, “Dong mau anh hung” (The Rebel).
However, this amount was the investing cost for the movie that Nguyen’s family in the US put into the movie in their first attempt to win over Vietnamese cinema. The high cost has forced Nguyen to mortgage several houses in the US while awakening his movie dream.
No longer thinking about movies of true art like “Noi buon chien tranh” (The Sorrow of War) or “Canh dong bat tan” (The Floating Lives), Charlie turned to making comedies, and immediately gained resounding success with “De Mai Tinh” and “Long Ruoi”.
The compromise of Charlie Nguyen with Vietnamese cinema is exactly what producers hope for, since getting the director’s help in making profit-oriented movies is the crucial condition of cooperation.
Another director is Nguyen Quang Dung, who became popular at a young age with his first movie, “Hon Truong Ba da hang thit” (Truong Ba’s Soul in Butcher’s Body). Dung quickly realized that his purpose in making films is to bring as much profit as possible.
Thus he uses various strategies to keep the audience’s interest, such as creating the next part of a series, “Giai cuu than chet” (Saving the Death), when the first one, “Nu hon than chet” (Kiss of the Death) was popular. He also made one of Vietnam’s first musicals, “Nhung nu hon ruc ro” (The Brilliant Kisses).
Despite critiques from the media, Nguyen Quang Dung has achieved his goal of not incurring losses for his producers, or for himself. Charging just an average professional fee and getting profit shares brought by the movie later is how this director works.
According to Dung, that is also how he pressures himself to make movies which sell like hot cakes.
Since he stopped working on new movies nearly two years ago, it is unknown what kind of new trick he will use when he returns, since there are many new comedies now.
If director Victor Vu hasn’t been involved in the suspicious case of his “Giao Lo Dinh Menh” (Inferno), which was said to be a copycat of Hollywood blockbuster “Shattered”, then the more than 35 VND billion (1.7 USD millions) profit for both of his movies “Co Dau Dai Chien” (The Bridal Wars) and “Giao Lo Dinh Menh” would be enough to make him one of the million-dollar directors.
A poster of "Co dau dai chien" (The bridal wars) by Victor Vu
His next film, “Thien Menh Anh Hung” (Blood Letter), is waiting to be distributed while producers determine whether it is a brainchild worth the million dollars, or another doubtful case.
Another director that must be named is Le Hoang, who gained multiple billions of dong with “Gai nhay” (Bar Dancer), the movie that marks his career shift to focus on profit-oriented movies.
His upcoming “Cuoc San Vit Troi” (The Hunting of Wild Ducks) with Lan Anh Media as the sole producer, is also an unknown member of the year end’s movies.
The main cast Ngoc Diep (L) and Huy Khanh in "Co dau dai chien"
(to be continued)