Vietnamese cinema took a leap into new grounds with its highest-grossing blockbuster yet, romantic comedy Em Chua 18, also known by its badly translated English title — Jailbait.
The movie focuses on a middle-aged playboy who unwittingly sleeps with a girl who isn’t yet 18, and then must appease her to avoid having her report him to the authorities.
With a budget of VND16 billion (approx. US$700,000), the film is the second by director Thanh Son Le, and grossed an overall US$10 million, the highest of any Vietnamese film so far.
Hailed by national media as the first evolution of Vietnamese cinema, Em Chua 18 just might be what the industry needs to propel itself into a new golden era of film-making.
The number of films produced in Vietnam has yet to recover from its drop in 1987. After the opening up of the economy, the industry failed to keep up with TV and video imports — American and Korean films and sitcoms remain the most popular flicks among the Vietnamese.
If Vietnam can follow similar models of cinematic evolution from across the region — producing films that highlight its culture and capture audiences through playing on a set of strengths that differentiate it from Hollywood — then the country could one day have its own thriving Hanoiwood.
Korean films settled on a formula of violence, an emphasis on characters’ emotions, and weird storylines that make you question the writer’s sanity. This has proven to be an effective tool when it comes to reaching global audiences. However, the country also benefits domestically from limiting the amount of days per year that foreign films can be shown in its theatres, and did at one point exempt the film industry from tax in order to encourage its growth.
Vietnam doesn’t yet take such measures, as the government is more concerned with staving off environmental catastrophe and keeping up economic growth.
Still, the interest that Em Chua 18 evoked in the media and the public shows that Vietnam has a hungry market for domestic film production. Films that can play off Vietnamese culture and humour and do it well, will no doubt break the box office.
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