VietNamNet Bridge – Producing films in Vietnam, for private filmmakers, is like flipping a coin. A filmmaker can make a lot of money or go bankrupt.


The Long-legged Girls is one of the first movies produced by private film companies in Vietnam.

Until 2000 Vietnam had the first private studios. Previously, the local movie market was overwhelmed by imported products, especially those from the U.S. and South Korea.

After a successful period of revolutionary films, state-owned film studios struggled with the old way of thinking and found themselves failing to draw audiences into theaters. As a result, all films lost money.

Director Le Hoang was the first who produced a commercial movie, in 2003. Titled “Dancing Girls”, it encouraged audiences to return to cinemas.

The movie brought in about VND12 billion (about $800,000) in revenue for Liberation Studio, an impressive number for local filmmakers at that time.

Since 2004, the Vietnamese movie industry has developed many private studios, including such big names as Thien Ngan (Galaxy), Phuoc Sang and BHD. Many successful commercial films have been produced, including “Long-legged Girls”, “When a Man Gets Pregnant”, “Truong Ba’s Soul in the Butcher’s Body” , “The Kiss of Death”, and “Rescue the Death”.

If state-funded movies don’t have to worry about turning a profit, private firms put making money at the top. To ensure profit, film producers have had to launch noisy advertising campaigns, even before their films are launched. At times the advertising budget is even higher than the production costs.

So far, the most successful private movies, in terms of money, are Kiss of Death (VND20 billion), Long Ruoi (VND42 billion), Brides’ Ward (VND40 billion), Beauty Trap (VND52 billion) and Teo Em (VND80 billion). These movies were produced by Galaxy and BHD.

The gamble of ephemeras


Chanh Tin (left) and Phuoc Sang are among the private filmmakers who went bankrupt.

When the Vietnamese movie industry began making remarkable films at the end of the 2000s, such as The Rebels or The White Silk Dress, a film director of a state-owned studio recognized its importance: "We can say that private films help rebuild the trust of audiences in Vietnamese movies."

As some film producers earned hundreds of thousands of US dollars in profit, more and more private studios were established. However, not everyone has been successful.

In 2005, when private studios started mushrooming, Vietnamese American director Nguyen Nghiem Dang Tuan returned home to produce the film “1735km” with the newly-established Ky Dong Studio.

The movie starred by two supermodels, Duong Yen Ngoc and Khanh Trinh, and it was shot throughout the country, from Hanoi to HCM City. The project was aggressively marketed, but when it was released, audiences were disappointed with its quality. As revealed by a film crew member, in its first week at the National Cinema Centre - the largest cinema in Hanoi - the movie earned less than VND1 million (about $60). The Ky Dong Studio subsequently went bankrupt right after this, its first movie project.

While state-owned film studios produce movies with state funding and don’t have to care about revenue or profit, private studios find that each film project is a gamble, often with the studio’s survival at stake.

Private studios sometimes don’t care about artistic quality in their products. They only want to produce easy-to-make thrilling and humorous films to lure the audience. They invest more in advertising activities than in the film quality. Therefore, many poor-quality movies have been produced.

Many people were surprised when Phuoc Sang, one of the first and most prominent private filmmakers in Vietnam, was accused of reneging on VND5 billion ($250,000) in debt in 2012. When Sang, the producer of such reputed blockbusters as “Hello Ms. Ba”, “When a Men Gets Pregnant”, “Teen Princess” and “Five Boys”, admitted to serious business difficulties, people knew that his past claims of huge revenues from his movies were faked.

Senior actor Chanh Tin’s recent bankruptcy also aroused public notice. Tin says he went bankrupt because of losses from the film projects of his company, Chanh Phuong Film. He says that his movie, “The Rebels”, could not be sold to foreign partners because of piracy.

The answer to the problems of the private film business in Vietnam seems to be elusive at this moment, because the audience's tastes are constantly changing.

Some movies, upon release, were believed to be well-poised to win audiences’ hearts, but failed to do so. The most recent example is “Idol”, which features an all-star cast, and has good music and cinematography, but failed to pull in much box office revenue. At the same time, some films that were described by critics as "disasters", pulled in a lot of viewers.

The appearance of many more private studios has also made the competition fiercer.  

Despite all this, the Vietnamese movie market remains a gold mine for many private filmmakers. A number of overseas Vietnamese directors have returned home to produce films, and this year, many investors from South Korea, including CGV and Lotte, plan to cooperate with Vietnamese partners to produce movies dedicated to the domestic market.

T. Van