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Vietnamese films are boring, but not because of lack of talent

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Vietnamese cinema has seemingly not evolved beyond motifs seen in South Korean movies of the last century.

‘Squid Game’ and ‘Hellbound’ are South Korean shows that have been shattering records on Netflix lately. For that country’s film industry, they were trophies to show the world. But what made them so wildly popular?

I believe it comes down to novelty, both in their plot and execution. They are completely different from the romantic dramas that were the hallmark of the South Korean movie industry in the 20th century.

Vietnamese TV serials now are just plain boring for buffs like me and beg the question: What exactly have we achieved after decades of filmmaking?

All the serials on prime time still revolve around antediluvian themes like family life and love affairs.

This is despite the fact the majority of our shows are adaptations of foreign serials.

It seems like Vietnamese filmmakers are only interested in vanilla ‘instant noodles’ shows meant to elicit tears but are shallow and somehow amazingly soulless despite being rooted in reality.

There are always the good guys and the bad guys, and the good guys always win in the end. You do not even need to watch the whole thing to know the ending.

They are films that are clichéd to the point they are motifs inserted into templates.

To persuade people to watch them, filmmakers resort to drama, but not the good kind: They are irrational and absurd to the point of hilarity and serve no other purpose except superficially complicate the plot.

They throw in funny lines and popular actors, thinking the shock-and-awe factor would make the audience stay. Some actually do.

But in these changing times, when people are developing more varied and nuanced tastes for art, what hope do these cacophonic films have of sustenance?

And the more people learn about the films the rest of the world has to offer, the more they will walk away from Vietnamese films.

Let us take a look back at ‘Squid Game’ and ‘Hellbound’. The topics they discuss are hardly new in modern society: wealth inequality and religion. But what made them stand out was how their stories were told. Their vehicles were ordinary and mundane, like children’s songs and games, but elevated to fantastical heights, like a life-or-death battle royale.

They pushed the plot forward with supernatural elements, but the messages they held out were human. This was what kept audiences coming back for more.

It was the two shows’ creativity combined with their storytelling that enabled them to cross borders and win over international fans, even those who are used to Hollywood spectacles.

The South Korean film industry has obviously reached new artistic heights.

It means their filmmakers are willing to step out of their comfort zones, experiment and push boundaries. Why can’t we do the same?

I do not think Vietnam lacks filmmaking talent, not at all; we simply have not given them room to grow. And one of the major factors for that is censorship.

Current film censorship regulations are not only too rigid but also obsolete. They force everyone to fall into the same boxes and dampen filmmakers’ creativity.

No one wants to spend years making a great movie only to see chunks and bits cut off, or even shelved altogether.

The world has moved to age brackets for films, but we are stuck with the fossilized notion that films should be for all ages from little children to seniors. The result is boring, if not outright bad, films.

I am not placing all the blame on censorship however. Asian films in general have always placed more importance on sentiment and life lessons than their western counterparts.

Western films have no trouble dishing things out quickly and efficiently purely for entertainment.

I believe South Korea is taking note of that kind of approach to better its craft.

Nevertheless, it is time for both Vietnamese filmmakers and management authorities to overhaul their ideas of how a film should look.

We will never take off if we remain stuck to the ground, to our decades-old ways of thinking.

I hope one day I can see a groundbreaking Vietnamese film worthy of being spoken of in the same breath as ‘Squid Game’ or ‘Hellbound’.

By Do Anh Quan – – December 24, 2021

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