Original screenplays yet to become safe bets for TV serial makers.
First, they ââ‚¬" foreign productions ââ‚¬" were overwhelmingly strong competitors, crushing the domestic industry.
National channels VTV and HTV were accused of undermining the growth of the fledgling local filmmaking industry by giving a lot of airtime to foreign films.
When this was addressed partly by reserving the ââ‚¬Å“golden hoursââ‚¬ (8 p.m. to 10 p.m.) for Vietnamese films, another problem came to the fore ââ‚¬" the scarcity of good television scripts.
Lurching from problem to temporary solution, and repeating the process ââ‚¬" this has been the modus operandi apparently for the better part of the new millenniumââ‚¬â„¢s first decade for the local film industry.
For now, one ââ‚¬Å“temporaryââ‚¬ solution is serving the local industry well ââ‚¬" the remaking of foreign TV serials in Vietnamese.
Such serials have achieved tremendous popularity since 2004. South Korean, Chinese and South American sitcoms have provided material for the remade-serials that have played an indispensable part in the revival of Vietnamââ‚¬â„¢s domestic film industry.
Since 2003, other foreign elements have been added to the mix. Vietnamese film companies have begun inviting foreign actors, scriptwriters or directors into their television projects. Some national film studios have also cooperated with foreign counterparts to improve their film-making quality.
Amidst all this, the original problem remains, the lack of good scripts.
Vu Ngoc Dang, director of two serials with the highest ratings, had one (Bong dung muon khoc - Suddenly wanna cry) written by himself, while the other (Ngoi nha hanh phuc ââ‚¬" ââ‚¬Å“Full Houseââ‚¬) was based on a Korean sitcom. Dang wrote the script for the remake as well.
Dang said a film script determines 60 percent of a TV serialââ‚¬â„¢s success.
ââ‚¬Å“The first thing considered must be the film script, then actors and the last is the director,ââ‚¬ said Dang.
A good script, he says, is also a reason for the strong growth of remakes.
Last year saw nearly ten remakes including ââ‚¬Å“Full Houseââ‚¬ from Korea, Co gai xau xi (Ugly Betty) from Columbia and Co nang bat dac di (Lalola) from Argentina.
The trend continues this year.
M&T Pictures, one of the most prominent TV serial makers, has begun shooting Loi song sai lam (Misguided lifestyle), a remake of a Korean production of the same title that was very successful in 2005. This can pose a challenge for the Vietnamese filmmakers because local audiences were already infatuated with the film three years ago.
Director Nguyen Minh Chung and the BHD Company are riding on the success of their ââ‚¬Å“Ugly Bettyââ‚¬ remake with one of Mexicoââ‚¬â„¢s, titled Dung dua voi thien than (Donââ‚¬â„¢t mess with an angel). The serial is expected to sizzle with the presence of ââ‚¬Å“hot girlââ‚¬ Midu (My Dung, winner of the 2007 Hot VTeen contest) and a bunch of famous models.
A director who did not want to be named said this trend would flourish for another five years at least, ââ‚¬Å“time enough for a new generation of local script-writers to mature and handle long series with hundreds of episodes.ââ‚¬
ââ‚¬Å“Buying and remaking famous serials is considered a safe solution by a large number of private film companies now,ââ‚¬ said the director, noting that original screenplays accounted for just 30 percent of local productions compared to 80 percent in South Korea.
Dang said that apart from helping meet the nationwide TV demand for 3,000 episodes every year, the remakes also provided valuable insights into TV-serial making and scriptwriting that would foster the local industryââ‚¬â„¢s growth.
Much was expected of the Nhung nguoi doc than vui ve (Funny singles) comedy, based on the hugely successful Chinese sitcom ââ‚¬Å“New Living Quarters in Sunshine.ââ‚¬
But the Vietnamese remake did not deliver on its promise, owing, many critics say, to overacting by comedians like Quoc Khanh, Van Dung and Quang Thang.
The sitcom, originally meant to stretch over 500 episodes and set a local record, closed after its 171st episode last September.
Director Do Thanh Hai said the serialââ‚¬â„¢s success in China, which has a culture very similar to Vietnam, failed to capture the imagination of local audiences. Scriptwriter Pham Ngoc Tien blamed the failure on difficulties in translating Chinese idioms and historical references, which were really funny, into Vietnamese.
Nguyen Quang Minh, general director of the Cat Tien Sa Media and Television Company, whose films are based on original Vietnamese scripts, said it was possible to ââ‚¬Å“to Vietnamize a Chinese name, but very difficult to do the same when it comes to a character or culture typical of a certain country.ââ‚¬
He said a major problem is that Vietnam does not have a training program for TV serial makers, especially scriptwriters.
Dang noted that feature film scriptwriters were ââ‚¬Å“graduatingââ‚¬ to TV screenplays in Vietnam instead of the other way around.
Even for remakes, there is a dearth of talented, well-trained scriptwriters who can make scripts from other cultures in sync with Vietnamese culture, directors said.
Writer Tran Thuy Linh, deputy director of Vietnamese Film Cooperation (VFC), noted that sex was dealt with in very open ways in Western films, while a more conservative approach still prevailed in Vietnam. Scriptwriters had to be aware of these differences, she said.
Vietnamese adaptations can also suffer in comparison to the original foreign versions. Despite high ratings, Ngoi nha hanh phuc (Full House) starring singer Minh Hang and actor Luong Manh Hai, has suffered criticism due to sub-par acting compared to Korean idols Song Hye Kyo and Bi-Rain.
In fact, after Vietnam Nation TV Festival, on January 8, Vietnam Television (VTV) announced that they will no longer produce films with foreign scripts due to public criticism.
Many filmmakers also argued that because of a shortage of scripts, remakes were not a trend but a demand. They said it should be seen as a temporary solution, but also stressed that growth of the local industry depended on getting rid of an inferiority complex.
Reported by Cat Khue - Kim - Phuong Anh