|Illustration by Trịnh Lập
by An Phương
“Have you watched Sống chung với mẹ chồng (Living with Mother-in-Law) or Người phán xử (The Arbitrator)?”
I’ve been asked this question many times since the two Vietnamese remakes were released in March.
Remakes of movies or series have been in full swing, with many hit titles, including Sắc đẹp ngàn cân (200-Pound Beauty); Gia đình là số một (Unstoppable High Kick); Em là bà nội của anh (Miss Granny); and Cô nàng ngổ ngáo (My Sassy Girl), among others.
Of course, I haven’t watched every single remake but I may consider it, especially after spending time looking at some recent popular remakes.
Among the examples are Sống chung với mẹ chồng, based on a best-selling Chinese novel, featuring conflicts between a daughter and mother-in-law, while Người phán xử, an adaptation of an Israeli script, is a crime drama.
“Remakes have made small-screen series more interesting to watch,” said Thu Hà, a friend of mine who insisted that I watch them.
“It’s been a long while since there have been great, well-rounded plots that introduce uncommon concepts in a local setting,” she said.
I agree. Many original Vietnamese series can’t capture as much attention as their remade counterparts.
According to experts, it’s more effective for local producers to purchase rights of original scripts and film a remake as they arrive with built-in audiences.
There has been a lack of fine content with both moral and entertaining value in Việt Nam.
“Even a rumour that a beloved title is considered being remade can often set off a social media tsunami,” Hà said.
“Now that Facebook pages of the two remakes Người phán xử and Sống chung với mẹ chồng have gained 180,000 and 460,000 followers, respectively, everyone should know about them now,” she added.
In my view, though the tsunami can’t guarantee a show’s eventual rating success, its ability to cut through the clutter and stand out in a sea of shows angling for eyeballs is no small feat.
In fact, several big-screen remakes, including Em là bà nội của anh, have generated big bucks, similar to some Hollywood blockbusters, according to Variety.com.
“This movie is the second-highest grossing local film of all time in Việt Nam,” it said.
Though remakes have brought diversity to the film industry, they’ve also created multiple challenges for local products.
“I used to love Vietnamese TV series back in the 2000s, but I no longer dig them. I much prefer remakes!” Văn Thuận, 24, said.
“Local films don’t satisfy my entertainment needs since they’re more predictable and boring compared to remakes,” he added. “Unnecessarily strict censorship has also caused local movies to lack ‘real elements’.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that censorship of remakes has loosened up.
In Người phán xử, intense sexual encounters and violent scenes have been cut, but the plot is logical and multi-layered, which viewers find intriguing.
“I just can’t handle any more local movies that depict life in rural areas and the struggle of suburban youth and how they achieve success in the big cities,” Thuận said.
“Don’t be offended! Though I understand that moviemakers are trying to tell moral stories, they are not what I need after a long working day.”
Hà’s sentiments are also cause for concern. “I’ve lost interest in local movies,” she said.
Thuận and other friends of mine, however, believe that we may be stereotyping local products by assuming they will be poorly executed, which can affect their ratings.
Last year, though people had expected Tấm Cám: The Untold Story and Nắng (Sun) to be hits, they failed, with each generating 70 billion đồng in revenue.
Dong Won Kwak, managing director of CJ CGV Company, said the average revenue gained from a local film fell by 25 per cent in 2016.
That being said, I believe the future for local films is not that gloomy, given the recent success of Em chưa 18 (Jailbait), a wholly Vietnamese-made movie released last month.
The film has proven that Việt Nam, though lacking in great scripts, is still able to make scripts with potential that could be remade by overseas firms.
Em chưa 18 earned 170 billion đồng in revenue and has been approached by Chinese, Korean, and Indian companies for remake rights.
“What made the movie a success were its entertainment values. I was impressed with the creative plot, catchy soundtracks and talented actors. Most importantly, it taught me valuable yet relevant moral lessons that I could actually use in real life,” Minh Sang, 25, said.
I initially thought Em chưa 18 was a remake from a Korean film. But now that I’ve come to learn that it’s an original script, I can’t help but feeling proud.
“I’m still supportive and have high hopes for Vietnamese films. I don’t need to watch many films in one year. It’s the right film that matters!” Hà said.
Recently, CJ CGV Company has launched a contest to look for talented scriptwriters in Việt Nam.
A company representative said that it wants to inspire and encourage emerging scriptwriters to come up with quality plots that can make the local movie industry bloom again.
After all, a well-received movie or TV series needs a great script.
Vietnamese producers have no choice but to step up their game in order to re-orient the industry to a direction that embraces authentic, cultural values.
For now, viewers might have to continue relying on remakes. But a brighter future for the industry awaits. VNS