The paradox of “flowing” money in historical movies in Vietnam


The movie ordered millions of dollars but almost failed to sell tickets. The 1954 Dien Bien Phu campaign was the biggest battle in the first Indochina war, once described by the poet To Huu: “9 years as a Dien Bien / So red flowers, so golden history”. The battle in the Muong Thanh basin that year was compared to “56 days and nights that shook the earth”.

The more investment, the bigger the loss – “money” is always the story mentioned when talking about the historical movie line of Vietnamese cinema.

However, the movies ordered by the State to get content about this campaign all failed seriously in terms of revenue.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Dien Bien Phu victory, the State ordered the Vietnam Feature movie Studio to project the movie “Dien Bien Memories” with a budget of more than 13 billion VND, which is considered a record investment in 2004. However, the movie did not resonate in theaters, and was criticized for its boring old story. The movie’s revenue was dismal, according to data provided by one theater (Dong Da theater) at that time, the movie only sold 60 tickets during 3 days of screening.

Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the historic Dien Bien victory, the State has ordered a new movie project from Vietnam Feature movie Studio with an investment of 21 billion dong. If calculated according to the USD price in 2014, this is a million USD movie project. This project when released in theaters is titled “Living with history”.

However, the stagnation of “Living with History” million USD is even more tragic than “Memories of Dien Bien” 10 years ago. According to data provided by theaters, “Living with History” has many showings that can’t even sell a single ticket, and the movie was forced to stop showing after a few days in theaters.

These are just two of many examples of movies ordered by the State on anniversaries that have suffered catastrophic sales and social effects.

The story of “order movies” has been controversial for a long time. The directors and state studios that received orders said that their movies were not produced to sell tickets. That these “ordered” movies will be screened for free for students and students of schools so that the younger generation can love, understand and be more proud of history.

However, reality has proven, the plan to bring “ordered movies” to the screen for free has not been able to help history become more popular.

In the opposite direction of public opinion, many people think that ordering million-dollar movies but having to leave the theater for only a few days because they can’t sell tickets is too much of a waste.

Not to mention, the content of ordered movies always receives a response from the audience about being dry, cliché, and old.

Private movies also lose money

There are two typical examples of movies inspired by the history of private studios but losing tens of billions of dong: “Hero’s Blood” and “Heroic Destiny”.

“Heroic Blood” is set during the resistance war against the French, had to set up an expensive movie studio, invested VND 23 billion at the same time in 2006. When it hit theaters, the movie only collected VND 10 billion, losing nearly half of it.

“Heroic Destiny” is inspired by the story of the Le Chi Vien tragedy involving the famous Nguyen Trai family. The movie was released on the occasion of the Lunar New Year in 2012 but could not recover the capital. The producer announced that the movie lost about 10 billion dong.

Explaining this loss, the directors said that they had invested too much in the movie, while the market and Vietnamese audience’s tastes were… unpredictable.

However, in the context of 2012, the movie “Thien Manh Hero” is not appreciated for its content, nor is this considered a work with the imprint of overseas Vietnamese director Victor Vu.

The two movies of two Viet Kieu directors also show that, at the beginning of entering the Vietnamese movie market, Charlie Nguyen (director of Heroic Blood) and Victor Vu (director of Thien Menh Hero) – both could not yet capture the tastes, measure the market, and also that they do not have the “necessary and sufficient” empathy to make movies about the history of Vietnam.

The world has hit historical movies

All comparisons are lame, and the most lame is when comparing Vietnamese movies with world movies.

Surely Vietnamese moviemakers will react harshly, because war movies they make cost 1 million USD, American movies will be invested 100 million USD, or Korean movies will be tens of millions of dollars. Along with that is the story about the script, actors, context, mechanism…

However, try to take the example of a popular Korean war and historical movie , for example, “The Great Sea War” was invested 18.6 million USD and earned 112 million USD. If we give $18.6 million to our moviemakers, is it possible to have an all-time cult historical movie, and gross $112 million?

There are opinions that, there are still ways to make movies about history and war that are emotional, because after all, the most important part of a movie is the way it tells the story.

The loss, pain, and tragedy from a war, from a historical journey will have many ways of retelling, in which there will be a way that does not need too much money, but still touches the hearts of the audience.