Female directors hit it big with blockbusters

December 18, 2016 - 11:02

Despite the lack of parity in the film industry, more and more female directors are making their mark and leading a new generation of filmmakers who are inspiring audiences.


Inspiring stories: Young singer Issac plays a leading role in Tấm Cám Chuyện Chưa Kể (Tấm Cám - The Untold Story). VNS Photo
Viet Nam News

By Thu Anh

HCM CITY— Despite the lack of parity in the film industry, more and more female directors are making their mark and leading a new generation of filmmakers who are inspiring audiences.

In recent years, women directors in the film business have overcome serious challenges and proven their ability to produce blockbusters that both entertain and inform.

Ngô Thanh Vân, who grew up in a small town in Trà Vinh Province, began her career as a film director and producer after more than 15 years working as a fashion model and pop singer. 

Her first film, Ngày Nảy Ngày Nay (Once Upon a Time), released in 2014, was a blockbuster hit, attracting more than 500,000 people in HCM City after the first three weeks of its release.

The film depicts the adventure of two women who live on a planet far from earth who discover love and friendship on a trip to earth. 

New generation: Female directors use technology in their films to attract young audiences. VNS Photo

Many of Vân’s male actors have described her as a “great soldier” as she directs them during scenes or takes part in marketing and sales.

To prepare for her directing career, Vân spent several years performing in TV series and films. 

“I began my movie career in 2004 with a leading role in Rouge, a 13-part TV series produced by MTV Asia,” said the 38-year-old.  

“Two years later, I played a leading role in Dòng Máu Anh Hùng (The Rebel), a kung-fu film directed by Vietnamese-American Charlie Nguyễn,” she recalled. “I did most of the kung fu scenes myself. After filming, I knew that my career would be in film.”

Dòng Máu Anh Hùng helped Vân win the Golden Lotus for Best Leading Actress at Việt Nam Film Festival 2007, held every two years by the Ministry of Culture.

The film’s box office take of VNĐ26 billion (US$1.2 million) set a record in Việt Nam at that time.

The film won the Grand Jury Award at the 2007 Sharing Visions, a biennial international film festival for Vietnamese filmmakers held in Los Angeles. It was also distributed on video in the US and Europe.

Vân was later invited to perform in several films directed by directors at home and abroad.

“I wanted to become a film director because I love telling my own story,” said Vân, about her second film that premiered in HCM City in August. 

Talent on screen: A scene in Tấm Cám Chuyện Chưa Kể (Tấm Cám- The Untold Story), a blockbuster directed by Ngô Thanh Vân, one of Viet Nam’s most talented female directors. VNS Photo

Tấm Cám-Chuyện Chưa Kể (Tấm Cám - The Untold Story), a 90-minute fantasy movie, was screened at 37 cinema complexes in Hà Nội, HCM City and other provinces.

It earned more than VNĐ70 billion ($3.1 million) in ticket sales.

With the film’s success, Vân was added to the list of blockbuster directors together with talented Vietnamese-American directors Victor Vũ and Charlie Nguyễn.

“We invested a big sum of more than VNĐ20 billion (nearly $900,000) to guarantee that our production would be a quality one,” Vân said.  

Around 40 Vietnamese films were released this year, but only three were directed by women, according to the culture ministry’s Department of Cinematography.

“Passion for work is not enough for women to overcome difficulties in this male-dominated field. You should be dynamic and energetic, and be prepared for failure at any time,” said Đặng Thái Huyền, 36, of the Film Studio Department of the People’s Army.

Huyền’s Mười Ba Bến Nước (Thirteen Wharves), which features post-war problems, won the Golden Lotus for best film, best director, best leading actor and actress, as well as for best supporting actor and best cameraman, at the 2009 Việt Nam Film Festival.

Her latest film, Người Trở Về (The Returnee), attracted many young audience members when it was released last year.  

“My film’s main character, a soldier, returns home a year after her family was notified that she had died in the war. The day she returns was also her lover’s wedding day,” said Huyền.

She made Người Trở Về on 35mm celluloid film with no special effects or digital devices.

“I think it won people’s hearts due to its sincere story and characters.” 

With the increase in the number of cinemas featuring foreign films in the country, local filmmakers have faced difficulty luring fans back to Vietnamese films.

“But we have never stopped developing the industry in a professional way,” she said.

Huyền’s new project is a horror film that will be released in February.

Bridging the gap: Young female director Luk Vân believes that men and women are “equal in filmmaking”. VNS Photo

YouTube star

Another female director, Luk Vân, began her career three years ago making short films on YouTube. Her works have won acclaim from young audiences.

Her short films, Hà Nội, Em Yêu Anh (Hà Nội, I Love You) and Đừng Thích, Hãy Yêu (Don’t Be Late, Just Love)  won the 5th Việt Nam Outstanding Banking Awards held in HCM City on November 30.

The films this year attracted more than 1 million viewers on YouTube. 

The banking awards ceremony also honoured several banks for their contribution to the development of the banking and financial sector and Việt Nam’s economy this year.

In a recent interview with local media, Luk Vân said that she believed “men and women are equal in art”.

Her first film, 4 Năm 2 Chàng 1 Tình Yêu (Four Years, Two Guys and One Love), was released last week, and was a big hit this season.

“My films are about the aspirations and difficulties in young women’s lives. I hope my art provides both entertainment and valuable lessons to young people, including teenagers,” said the 26 year-old, who has nearly 15,000 fans on her Facebook fanpage.

“My family and friends have supported me in my career as a director.”  — VNS