Vietnam heads for Hollywood

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Vietnamese-made films are slowly making their way into US theaters, generating modest but encouraging ticket sales.

Unlike Hollywood movies, which nearly always depict Vietnam at war, today's homegrown Vietnamese movies have a chance to recast the country in the imagination of American audiences.

Most focus on the challenges of modern life.

According to Megastar Cineplex, Vietnam only released 12 films in the nation's 30 domestic theaters, this year.

The dozen domestic movies competed with a slew of foreign blockbusters and only took in a small portion of this year's US$25 million in ticket sales, according to website

In the past, Vietnamese language films that travelled abroad were usually financed and produced by Vietnamese expatriates - the most famous of which, perhaps, is Cyclo a 1995 release which grossed a mere $86,620 in the US.

This year, more than 4,200 movie theaters in the US generated domestic revenues worth $11 billion. Some of that money made it to Vietnam.

Cu va se se (Owl and sparrow) by Chanh Phuong Films is considered the first international success to be written and produced by an entirely Vietnamese crew. Last year, the film generated $47,000 in ticket sales during its nine-week run in four US cinemas.

According to's statistic, Cu va se se grossed a total of $170,000 in overseas earnings which includes ticket sales in South Korea and Spain.

The film, which had a total budget of merely $50,000, has not been released here in Vietnam.

Unlike Cu va se se, which received rave reviews in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and New York Daily News, overseas Vietnamese director Victor Vu's Chuyen tinh xa xu (Passport to love) netted $173,000 during its seven-week run at six cinemas in the States without support from the local media.

De Mai tinh (Fool for love) the third Vietnamese US release grossed $166,000 in ticket sales. The film premiered on September 10 and is considered one of two high grossing films to be distributed by Variance Films, a firm that specializes in foreign independent releases.

At the whim of distributors

Vietnamese-language films are mostly relegated to small "art house theaters" abroad.

According to Jimmy Pham Nghiem, chairman of Chanh Phuong Films, local filmmakers need to rope in distribution companies owned by Vietnamese-Americans if they have any hopes of breaking into the lucrative market.

Nghiem said that despite finding such a distributor, films may still be rejected or replaced depending on the few distributors' preferences.

Sai Gon nhat thuc (Saigon eclipse) was scheduled to open in the US on November 12, just one week before the premier of blockbuster "Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows."

But Indican Pictures, the distributor, conveniently delayed the release until March, 2011.

At press time, the producer had no idea when it would debut or on how many screens.

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