Tet films run the gamut

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Kicking off last week, this holiday season's Tet films celebrate love, lament loss, and are filled with both tears and laughs.

With a range of genres represented - comedy, romance, action and drama - there are pros and cons to this year's Tet holiday films Giai cuu than chet (Hot Kiss 2), Dep tung centimet (Beautiful by the Centimeter) and Huyen thoai bat tu (Legend Is Alive).

Giai cuu than chet (Hot Kiss 2)


Giai cuu than chet (Hot Kiss 2) is the highly anticipated sequel to Nu hon than chet (Kiss of Death), Vietnam's highest grossing film ever, which also won the silver prize at the 2007 Canh Dieu Vang (Golden Kite) awards, Vietnam's answer to the Oscars.

The VND7 billion (US$410,000) film follows the story of a school girl who enlists the help of an angel of death to become popular at her new school. But the angel is young and inexperienced and most of his help backfires. Wacky antics ensue.

Director Nguyen Quang Dung said he wanted to send the youth a message with the film: "Nobody's perfect in the world, you'd better be yourself," he says.

Dung also wrote and directed "Kiss of Death."

Dung, who's earned the nickname Dung khung (Crazy Dung) for his unconventional directorial techniques, had previously said his goal with the film was to become Vietnam's highest paid director.

So he looked to Hollywood for inspiration.

"My film is like 'High School Musical,' 'Mean Girls' and many other films in its portrayal of youth. In addition, I pay homage to the 'Harry Potter' films in the depiction of student-teacher relationships. I was also influenced by the social relationships set up in 'Shark Tale'."

"Hot Kiss 2" is a musical, like "High School Musical," and follows a young girl who wants to be popular, like "Mean Girls."

Dung said he loved the conflict in "Shark Tale," where the main character is born into a criminal family but has a kind heart. Such was the inspiration for his angel of death character, a young man who wants to live a peaceful life rather than taking lives.

The group of characters are all popular, pretty and talented singers such as Minh Hang, Chi Thien and Dong Nhi.

The film's female lead Minh Hang is an actress and singer. She became famous for her role in the TV series Goi giac mo ve (Calling back the dream), for which she received a Ho Chi Minh City Television Award in 2008.

But skeptics say that without the superstars' involvement and frenetic chemistry of the last film's two leads - supermodel Thanh Hang and Vietnamese American actor Johnny Tri Nguyen - the film might be a disappointment.

One viewer commented, and others agreed: "Hot Kiss 2 is a fun and humorous movie for the Lunar New Year, but it's just for teenagers."

Dep tung centimet (Beautiful by the Centimeter)

"Beautiful by the Centimeter" tells the story of a photographer and a model who try to take advantage of each other to get what they want. But of course, they fall in love.

The film's two leads, Tang Thanh Ha and Luong Manh Hai, have already worked together on the hit TV show Bong dung muon khoc (Suddenly I wanna cry) and are sure to win audiences hearts yet again.

The film's director, Vu Ngoc Dang, also directed the TV series.

But the chemistry among the artists can't conceal the vapidity of the film's content. The artists seem content merely to have a bunch of kissing scenes inter cut with scenes of deception.

Most of the dialogue is annoying, long and boring and the characters only fall in love after Hai's character (the man) cheats on Ha's character in order to learn how to kiss.

But no specific details or situations lead viewers to believe their love is true.

All we'll remember from this empty film are the kisses.

Many viewers said they didn't even feel the emotion in the kisses, accusing the director of not understanding how to express real affection or feelings.

"The characters seemed to kiss too easily," said one viewer.

"The film seemed forced. It was almost as if it was completed prematurely. Perhaps the artists used up all their grace in Suddenly I wanna cry. That creative energy is not reproduced and the film seemed rushed," said journalist and writer Hai Mien.

"The director didn't have any real goals. He just wanted to make a blockbuster."

Huyen thoai bat tu (Legend Is Alive)

"Legend Is Alive" has a style all its own. Produced by Phuoc Sang Studio, Saigon Media and Wonder Boy Entertainment for $800,000, the hefty budget has added hype and expectations to the film, which stars Dustin Nguyen.

The film is about a young man who wants to bring his mother's ashes back to America to bury her next to his late father's tomb.

Though the film deals with serious issues such as Agent Orange and human trafficking, its also a martial arts flick at heart.

In all three films, the plot often ties itself into knots and problems aren't resolved well enough, and we therefore fail to relate to the characters.

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