A Historical 2023 for Local Vietnam Films at the Domestic Box Office

A Historical 2023 for Local Vietnam Films at the Domestic Box Office

Asian Movie Pulse
by Le Chou
Published Dec 30, 2023

For the first time in modern Vietnam cinema since the establishment of its box office tracking, six local films topped the Vietnam box office in 2023 and combined to capture more than a third of the total box office receipts. This dominating performance by local films is a stark reversal of 2022, when the top local film only placed sixth in the year’s overall ranking behind Hollywood and other foreign films.

As 2023 comes to a close, here’s a look at the 6 films (in order of box office performance) and the directors who helmed them:

1. Nhà Bà Nữ (The House of No Man)

Directed by , starring Uyển Ân, Song Luân, and Trấn Thành.

Trấn Thành marks his solo directorial debut with Nhà Bà Nữ (The House of No Man), which unequivocally became the box office champion upon its release during Tết (Lunar New Year). The film stars the director’s real-life sister in the lead role and rapidly took in 100 billion VND within a record-setting 3.5 days of its release date. (The 100 billion VND mark is considered by industry as an indicator of top commercial success.) The previous record-holder, Bố Già (Dad, I’m Sorry), crossed the number after 4 days of release.

Trấn Thành currently holds the distinction of director of the highest grossing film of all time in Vietnam – Nhà Bà Nữ (The House of No Man), and of the highest grossing Vietnam film of all time in U.S. – Bố Già (Dad, I’m Sorry), a film he co-directed with Vũ Ngọc Đãng that reached a historical milestone of being the first Vietnam film to cross 1M USD at the U.S. box office (2021).

2. Lật Mặt 6: Tấm Vé Định Mệnh (Face Off 6: The Ticket to Destiny)

2. Face Off 6

Directed by , starring Quốc Cường , Trung Dũng, Huy Khánh, Thanh Thức, Trần Kim Hải, and Huỳnh Thi

The sixth film in a franchise that is being loosely branded as the Fast and Furious of Vietnam, singer turned producer and director Lý Hải takes an unconventional approach to action film franchises: keep the action, lose the story and character continuity. Each film in his Lật Mặt franchise are independent works with no overlapping elements.

Lý Hải started his V-pop singing career in the early 90s, transitioning to acting, then directing with his 2014 Bí Mật Lại Bị Mất directorial debut. He quickly followed up the following year with the first Lật Mặt in 2015. With each new film installment, Lý Hải continues to build upon a strong audience base that makes his films stalwarts at the domestic box office.

3. Đất Rừng Phương Nam (Song of the South)

3. Song of the South

Directed by , starring Hạo Khang, Tuấn Trần, and Trấn Thành

Inspired by the 1957 novel “Đất Rừng Phương Nam” by Đoàn Giỏi, the film was widely anticipated by the local audience due to the book’s popularity through the years. Đất Rừng Phương Nam (Song of the South) had a strong start its opening weekend but faced some headwinds regarding the accuracy of its historical content. Industry observors forecasted a stronger performance for this film. Even though its box office momentum was hindered by controversy that reached a national level, the film still managed to eventually cross the 100 billion dollar mark.

In addition to being a director, Nguyễn Quang Dũng has been involved with producing work for several notable Vietnam films, including the 2022 Em và Trịnh, which is the aforementioned top local box office performer of that year.

4. Siêu Lừa Gặp Siêu Lầy (Hustler vs. Scammer)

4. Hustler vs Scammer

Directed by , starring Mạc Văn Khoa and Anh Tú

Võ Thanh Hòa is the youngest director to have two films earning more than 100 billion VND at the Vietnam box office, the first being the 2020 film, Chị Mười Ba: 3 Ngày Sinh Tử (13rd Sister: Three Deadly Days) and the second is Siêu Lừa Gặp Siêu Lầy (Hustler vs. Scammer).  He is a critically-acclaimed actor-turned-director and his acting work in the 2010 film Cánh Đồng Bất Tận (The Floating Lives) earned him a Golden Kite Award (Vietnam’s equivalent of the Oscars) for Best Supporting Actor.

The comedic and big screen appeal of its two leading actors helped ensure box office success for Siêu Lừa Gặp Siêu Lầy (Hustler vs. Scammer) and cemented Võ Thanh Hòa’s moniker as the “hundred billion dollar director”.   

5. Chị Chị Em Em 2 (Sister Sister 2)

5. Sister Sister 2

Directed by , starring Minh Hằng and Ngọc Trinh

Vũ Ngọc Đãng is an accomplished televison and film director, and similar to Võ Thanh Hòa, achieved his second “hundred billion dollar” film in 2023 with Chị Chị Em Em 2 (Sister Sister 2).   

Perhaps taking a note from the Lật Mặt film franchise, Chị Chị Em Em 2 (Sister Sister 2) is a sequel with no overlapping story or character elements to Chị Chi Em Em (Sister Sister), the 2019 directorial debut of Vietnamese-American actress Kathy Uyên.  

Released during the busy Tết movie going season, this film went head-to-head with Nhà Bà Nữ (The House of No Man), pitting Vũ Ngọc Đãng against his former co-director of Bố Già (Dad, I’m Sorry). The film managed to find its own box office success and its place on this historical list.

6. Người Vợ Cuối Cùng (The Last Wife)

6. The Last Wife

Directed by , starring Kaity Nguyễn and Thuận Nguyễn

Directed by Victor Vũ, widely considered the most prolific modern-day film director in Vietnam with 17 films spanning a 20-year filmmaking career thus far, Người Vợ Cuối Cùng (The Last Wife) rounds out the top ranked films and takes the honor of being the film on this list with the widest global theatrical release outside of Vietnam, including North America and Europe. Set during the 19th century during the Nguyễn Dynasty (the country’s last feudal dynasty), the historical beauty of the film has garnered critical acclaim from East to West.  

Victor Vũ’s filmography showcases rare achievements both critically and commercially. His films Mắt Biếc (Dreamy Eyes) (2019) and Tôi Thấy Hoa Vàng Trên Cỏ Xanh (Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass) (2015) were box office successes domestically and selected to be Vietnam’s official entries for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 93rd and 89th Academy Awards.

Vietnam films enjoyed a historical year in 2023 and their domestic box office performances this year should help pave the way for more local films to create a remarkable impression in the coming years. The big question remains whether Vietnam films will be able to truly break out of the domestic market into the more competitive international markets, especially in the U.S, home to the largest Vietnamese diaspora community. Past efforts have yielded promising results and if 2023 is an indicator, then there may be plenty to look forward to in 2024.