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Vietnam cartoons of good quality, yet still unappealing to viewers

Monday, October 13, 2014, 19:15 GMT+7
Vietnam cartoons of good quality, yet still unappealing to viewers
A scene from a 3D Vietnamese cartoon titled "Duoi Cua Than Lan" (The Tail of a Lizard)

Vietnamese cartoons still lag far behind their South Korean counterparts despite all the good comments by children and their parents at a recent festival in Hanoi.

Many young audience members and their parents were equally captivated by Vietnamese and Korean cartoons at two free screening sessions in the capital on Friday and Saturday last week.

The screening sessions were part of the two-day Vietnam-Korea Cartoon Festival.

However, Nguyen Vu Tuong Quyen, a fourth grader, and several of her peers said that it was the first time they had watched Vietnamese cartoons.

“My two sons, aged 4 and 5, really love Vietnamese animated films, which feature gorgeous images. I myself find the films entrancing and highly educational,” commented Anh, a mother.

Another parent raised a question on why locally-made cartoons draw a mere three or four audience members at ticket-selling screenings despite their good content and affordable ticket prices of some VN30,000 (US$1.41).

The perennial problems

The reasons for limited appeal among Vietnamese animated films were addressed at several seminars held in Hanoi on Thursday and Friday last week, which were also part of the festival.

The seminars were attended by some 200 animation experts, producers, artists, entrepreneurs, and students from South Korea and Vietnam.

Pham Ngoc Tuan, deputy director of Vietnam Animation Studio – the country’s largest state-owned cartoon maker – kicked off the first seminar with the fact that while children account for up to 40 percent of the country’s population, cartoons occupy a paltry 1-10 percent of the total airing time on television channels.

This is absolutely not the case in South Korea.

“We’ve always received due attention from the entire society. Major Korean television channels are always ready to buy our latest films, while investors are invariably on the hunt for our new projects. For instance, the popular animation series ‘Hello Jadoo’ has drawn good funding for both its two seasons, with the investment amounting to $200,000 in the second season,” said Lee Jin Hui, CEO of Atronz Co., a Korean animation producer.

However, Lee pointed out that to receive such support, her company has always done its utmost to make a difference and ensure their films’ appeal to children and adults alike.

The chief officer stressed that her company also devises film production and distribution plans simultaneously and has large-scale publicity projects, which is integral its films’ commercial success.

Prof. Park Hong Su, head of South Korea’s Gangwon Information and Culture Development Institute, emphasized the need to tap into collective creativity during the filmmaking process. 

One of the keys to Korean animation success is producers’ ability to mobilize several scriptwriters and artists to work together, Prof. Park noted.

Artist Nguyen Ngoc Tuan, a lecturer at the Hanoi Academy of Theater and Cinema, lamented that gathering several scriptwriters and artists in the same project almost verges on impossibility in Vietnam, due to the serious shortage of scriptwriters and their preference for working independently.

At the seminars, Korean animation producers said that many of their films such as “Pororo,” “Hello Jadoo,” “Cloud Bread,” and “Tayo the Little Bus” are dominating the local market and have also penetrated  other countries, including China, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Meanwhile, Vietnamese producers could only name the local awards – and not their commercial success – which were earned by their films, such as “Su Tich Dao Ba” (The Legend of Lady Island), “Bo Vang” (Yellow Cow), and “Nhung Chu Ca Lac Dan” (Fish Which Stray from Their School).

“Though Vietnamese animation didn’t have an early starting point, the industry abounds in potential. Your films can step out into the world only when they’re special. You can leverage your traditional cultural heritage to make them stand out from the crowd,” said Lee Jung Gi, a director at Iconix Entertainment Co. – a major Korean animation producer – which produced such well-loved series as “Pororo” and “Tayo the Little Bus.”

During the seminars, a memorandum of understanding was also inked between Vietnam Animation Studio and Gangwon Information and Culture Development Institute for further cooperation in the near future.

Vietnamese animation producers have pointed to the shortage of good scripts, inadequate state investment, stringent censorship, and limited funding for publicity as the factors that hinder the development of local cartoons.

Minh Phuong, general director of Vietnam Animation Studio, said in an article published in Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper in June that each year the cartoon maker receives eight to ten film orders from the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism for a total fund of VND10-12 billion (up to $564,812).

That is a little amount compared to foreign animation films which cost at least $2 milion each, Phuong said.

The amount directors actually receive for their films is only one-third or one-fourth of the earmarked sum, she added.

Phuong said that her company holds two scriptwriting camps every year but could only cherry-pick six or seven good scripts from some hundred entries.

The number of usable scripts is sometimes trimmed down to two or three, the general director said.

“Seasoned writers typically feature cliché content and ideas, whereas the young with innovative ideas and storylines usually don’t know how to develop their scripts properly,” she explained.

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