by Nguyen Khanh Chi
Almost two weeks after hitting screens nationwide, the heavily promoted Duong dua (The Race) has been declared a flop, following in the footsteps of many other recent Vietnamese releases which have failed to win audiences’ hearts.
The movie reached local screens on the weekend of July 26 but has already been dropped by major cinema chains such as Megastar and Galaxy in HCM City and Ha Noi.
Advertised as an exciting action/crime story, the film tells the story of a retired jockey who borrows money to make a living in the city and support his sick father. He soon falls into a gambling spiral and makes an enemy of a local den owner.
The lack of interest in The Race comes as a huge disappointment to the newly-established Blue Production studio, which bankrolled the feature and the reasons for the film’s failure are now under scrutiny.
“As contracted with the distributor, the film was shown for two weeks,” said a representative from the August Cinema in Ha Noi, where The Race was officially removed from the list on Friday.
“Normally, whether we extend the contract depends on the number of people who go to see the film. A release may stay on screens for one or two weeks, or it may remain for three months if audience interest is high. The maximum number people attending screenings of The Race has been fewer than 30.”
Hoang Minh Nam, an audience member who did go see the film said that in his screening at a Megastar Cinema on a Monday afternoon was attended by only four other people. The cinema screened the film for only one week.
“Any movie screened out there in cinemas needs to take full advantage of the big screen and huge sound system. Unfortunately, compared with Hollywood releases we cannot compete in terms of technique, sound, content and investment,” said Nam. “Why should I choose to see a Vietnamese movie when I have to pay the same price for a Hollywood blockbuster.”
A slow year
The Race is the seventh Vietnamese film to hit local screens this summer. Although it was well-covered by local mass media, the film failed to receive the positive critical reception afforded to recent releases such as Lo lem Sai Gon (Sai Gon Cinderella), the 3D Biet chet lien (How the Hell Should I Know?), San dan ong (Men Hunting) and Cat nong (Hot Sand), which was shown at the opening ceremony of the International Film Festival in Ha Noi last year.
How the Hell Should I Know? earned the highest turnover of the group, with VND7.2 billion (US$340,000) whilst Hot Sand made only VND35 million ($1,600), according to Tuoi tre (Youth) newspaper. TheVND12 billion – The Race earned around VND850 million on its first weekend. These figures are much lower compared with foreign films like the still showing Despicable Me 2, which earned distributors almost VND54.7 billion ($2.6 million) by July 31 after a month on local screens.
The Race failed to create box-office magic partly because of the ‘heavy’ nature of the material, according to the film’s assistant director Nguyen Thanh Son on his personal webpage.
“It is serious and is not really targeted at an audience of under 20s – who are the main customers of cinemas.”
According to the culture ministry’s Cinematography Department, Viet Nam produced 17 films in 2011 and imported 106. The following year the number of locally produced films remained the same while imports reached 134. The statistics also revealed that foreign movies in the country saw profits from $2 million in 2000 to $47 million in 2012. Foreign investment in the sector has also increased, especially in cinema chains.
“Obviously, investment into and earnings from the movie industry has increased significantly year by year,” said Ngo Phuong Lan, head of the department. “It proves that Viet Nam has the potential for cinematography to develop. However, we have not done enough to take full advantage of these developments to reinvest into and support the locally made films.”
Vu Minh Chien, manager of Platinum Cinemas, said turnover from The Race had fallen far short of expectations.
“Audiences have expressed a general view that despite the hype, the film is not so impressive. Now we have to wait for the ‘bumper crop’ of Vietnamese movies to arrive in Lunar New Year or other holidays like National Day, when Hollywood does not release its hits and blockbusters. In the past at these times Vietnamese movies like Dong mau anh hung (The Rebel), My nhan ke (Beauty Trap) and gangster comedy Long Ruoi (Big Boss) stayed in cinemas longer than some foreign movies.”
Cinemas are now pinning their hopes for this year on the forthcoming Lua Phat (Once Upon a Time in Viet Nam). The film is described as an “Eastern Western” featuring motorbike-riding kung fu monks and large-scale battles. Dustin Nguyen directed the film and also penned the script. — VNS