Vietnam News

Vietnamese cinema’s new take on reality

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Vietnamese movies are increasingly embracing social realism, not a genre filmmakers have been familiar with for long.

Recent social realism releases like “Rom”, “Tiec Trang Mau” (Blood Moon Party), and “Trai Tim Quai Vat” (The Monster’s Heart) prove the genre is on the rise domestically.

Since its July release, “Rom”, directed by Tran Thanh Huy, has taken VND70 billion ($3 million) while “Blood Moon Party”, directed by Nguyen Quang Dung and released in October, earned VND167 billion at the box-office.

The revenues are a good omen considering this is a difficult genre for Vietnamese artists compared to rom-coms or action movies.

In fact, more and more filmmakers are becoming interested in social realism because of its increasing popularity in Asia and elsewhere. American movie “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” got nominated for the best film Oscar. Made on a shoestring budget of $15 million, it grossed $156 million.

South Korean movie “Hope” directed by Lee Joon-ik in 2013 won for Best Film at the 34th Blue Dragon Film Awards and was liked by audiences in Asia including Vietnam.

“Rom” is praised by moviegoers for its realistic topic, on-location shots and camera technique. The film revolves around a child protagonist living in a dilapidated neighborhood infested with desperate gamblers.

On the other hand, despite being shot in similar settings, “Trai Tim Quai Vat” (The Monster’s Heart), directed by Ta Nguyen Hiep, reflects controversial issues like eminent domain, massage disguised prostitution, and complicated human relationships within an apartment block. Camera angles manage to highlight the dustiness of every flight of stairs, along with the suffocating and bleak atmosphere inside the building.

Released in November, plenty of Vietnamese youth might easily relate to the characters in director Le Minh Hoang’s “Sai Gon Trong Con Mua” (Sai Gon in the Rain), that focuses on the familiar “love or career” topic, set against the backdrop of real small alleys and traditional flower markets.

Social realism is not always dark, but a reflection of working-class life. And through the kaleidoscopic lens of cineastes, it could be made bright too, according to industry insiders.

For example, “Anh Thay Ngoi Sao” (Superstar Teacher) directed by Duc Thinh, released last year, centers on a famous singer’s retreat journey to an island to have a whale of a time with local students. Or “Thua Me Con Di” (Goodbye Mother) directed by Trinh Dinh Le Minh, and “Ngoi Nha Buom Buom” (Butterfly) directed by Huynh Tuan Anh, focused on homosexual families.

The fact that these movies gross decently also means cinemagoers are not opposed to the genre since after all, they deal with real life issues, said industry insiders.

Movie producer-director Nguyen Quang Dung commented social realism is a hard genre to tackle. But, he believes that this genre has a real potential to grab the attention of moviegoers in Vietnam market. “Let’s take the South Korean hit “Parasite” raking in VND90 billion in Vietnam as an example of how one good social realism movie could succeed in the domestic market.”

At a meeting in HCMC, director Dang Nhat Minh also said that: “Moviemakers have to make a decision to pick up social issues from a diversity of life aspects for their movies. An artist’s must-have quality is real life experience so that his or her movie can resonate well with the audience.”

By Kieu Anh – – November 30, 2020

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