LESSON 30 - Vietnamese Pho / Vietnam’s Film Industry (30032019)


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Vietnam’s movie business is growing quickly. New theaters are being built across the country. Young filmmakers are entering the market.

In the past, movies about Vietnam centered on Hollywood’s ideas about the Vietnam War. They starred American actors with Vietnamese playing background parts. But this is changing.

Academy Awards submission

Ngo Thanh Van became an international movie star with her part in the latest version of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Now she has turned to directing. Her newest film is called The Tailor (Cô Ba Sài Gòn). It will be Vietnam’s official entry for next year’s Academy Awards in the foreign language category.

“Making movies in the Vietnamese market is a risky business, not just for me,” Van told the internet news site Zing. “But it is because it is difficult that I want to put all my heart into doing it."

Increasing demand

Increasing interest is coming from both Vietnamese filmmakers and Vietnamese movie-goers. The theater group CGV reported a 30 percent increase in profits for 2017 compared to the year before. CGV is just one company that shows movies, but it controls nearly half the movie theaters in the Southeast Asian country.

Critics call it a monopoly, but its market position shows the industry’s growth. Besides the South Korean-owned CGV, other movie theater companies in Vietnam include BHD, Galaxy, Skyline, Cinestar, Cinebox and Lotte.

The theaters are trying to meet demand for movies in an economy that is expanding at a rate of nearly 7 percent every year.

Vietnam’s growth has caused companies like Netflix, and another streaming service, iflix, to get into the Vietnamese market.

The investment advice company Investar wrote in an analysis of the film industry: “When a country develops, the next developmental need will be entertainment, so it is important to capture this demand.” It also said that money is being invested in the business.

Diaspora comes home

The growth of Vietnamese movies comes as more Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American actors appear in international films. The Netflix movie To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before stars a Vietnamese-American born in the Mekong Delta area. In Downsizing, actor Matt Damon performs with Hong Chau, who uses a thick Vietnamese accent but earned a Golden Globe nomination.

And people with Vietnamese ancestry are returning. American actors, directors, producers and film editors have returned to Vietnam in recent years, like Johnny Tri and Charlie Nguyen.

Filmmakers from France, a former colonial ruler of Vietnam, have also arrived, such as two French-Vietnamese who set up an animation business in Ho Chi Minh City.

Performer Nguyen Cao Ky Duyen said on her Facebook page, “If you support Vietnamese movies, the movies will be profitable, and investors will put in more money.”

She added that Vietnam has plenty of beautiful areas to film movies.

A good place for movie-making

Kong: Skull Island is a good example of a successful movie filmed in Vietnam. It is the latest version of the famous King Kong movies. It includes pictures of the green waters of Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage place.

The film also signaled an important change in movies in Vietnam. The film takes place during the Vietnam War. But, it celebrates the performances of Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson and the natural beauty of the country.

Vietnamese-language films are being watched around the world. They include films like Cyclo and The White Silk Dress (Áo Lụa Hà Đông). Local people hope those are just the start of a growing trend.

“We know that Vietnamese movies are not yet equal with neighboring countries, because we are still in a period of opening up,” said Ky Duyen. “But that does not mean that we will not catch up.”

India has Bollywood. Nigeria has Nollywood. Vietnam may soon develop its own version: Vollywood.

I’m Susan Shand



A few months ago we reported on the American fast food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken moving into the Vietnamese market. Today we bring you the story of a Vietnamese entrepreneur trying to beat American fast food sellers at their own game. He's offering a version of Vietnam's most famous noodle dish, pho. Or as it's known here in the U.S., pho. And here’s Michael Sullivan reports.

Lunch hour in Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon, Vietnam's biggest and busiest city, and the noodle soup shop at number 67 Hai Ba Trung is packed. There are about 70 seats in this clean, comfortable and air-conditioned restaurant, and they're all taken. Waiters scurrying (chạy gấp gáp / nhốn nháo) from table to table, plunking down steaming bowls of Vietnam's signature dish - eaten mostly on the street but increasingly at this new chain called Pho24.

Ms. DAO THUY VY (Customer): (Foreign language spoken)

The quality is good, especially the noodles, says Dao Thuy Vy. They're different than normal noodles. The flavor is better and it's safer, she says, than eating on the street.

A bowl of pho on the street costs less than a dollar. At Pho24, it's twice that, but the customers don't seem to mind.

Mr. NGUYEN NHAN BAO (Customer): (Foreign language spoken)

It's not just the food, says this man, Nguyen Nhan Bao. It's the staff, the service. It's all very good, very professional. And it's fast too, he says, so it's a combination of things that make me want to come here.

A winning combination as it turns out. Ly Qui Trung is the founder and CEO of the Pho24 chain. His family opened the first store in 2003. Today there are more than 50.

Mr. LY QUI TRUNG (Founder, CEO, Pho24): We started with the foreigners and ex-pats (người xa xứ) and high-end (chịu chi) Vietnamese. But our vision is for the whole population of Vietnam. And at the moment, you know, more than 50 percent of our customers are the locals.

SULLIVAN: Part of his vision is to try to convince young Vietnamese that their own fast food is as good or better than that offered by the multinational chains. KFC and Pizza Hut are already here, but not McDonalds, not yet anyway. And Trung wants to grab a big chunk of the market before the 800-pound gorilla (chàng khổng lổ) crashes the party.

Mr. TRUNG: I just don't want to see it happen that all young people just go for McDonalds, KFC all the times. It already happened in many Asian countries. So we have to make the young generations get used to the traditional dish.

SULLIVAN: Chung says his company's rapid growth mirrors that of Vietnam's economy in general, over the past several years.

Mr. TRUNG: Today, there are more and more of Vietnamese people can afford pho, a bowl of 24. Now the very average Vietnamese can afford.

SULLIVAN: Late last year, one of Vietnam's biggest venture capital firms bought a 30 percent stake into Pho24, which Chung says he'll use to fund his expansion. Several shops are already open in Indonesia and the Philippines. A half dozen more are set to open in Australia and South Korea in the summer. And by the end of the year, Chung says, he expects his first foothold in the U.S. -a Pho24 in California. And he's pretty much figured out how to market it to the American consumer.

Mr. TRUNG: It's very clean, very quick, very nutritious, less salt, less fat, less sugar. You know, you don't get fat with pho.

SULLIVAN: And it's tasty too. And if his Vietnamese export does well in the U.S., Chung says, he may yet realize his secret ambition - global fast food domination.

Mr. TRUNG: Yes, yes, I would like to think so. I wish to become a very big chain. And to see people all over the world know about Pho24, about Vietnam.

SULLIVAN: Super-size that, Ronald McDonald. And remember:

Mr. TRUNG: You don't get fat with pho.

SULLIVAN: Michael Sullivan

Composed & Edited by Le Quoc An
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