~ Le ViÍt Nam, aujourd'hui. ~
The Vietnam News

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A Vietnamese film, Gai Nhay (Bar Girls)

For the first time a Vietnamese film, Gai Nhay (Bar Girls) by Le Hoang, has walked over Hollywood blockbusters to rank top of the box office in Ho Chi Minh City after just one week of screening. It also marks the first time "hot scenes" have made it past censors in the conservative country.

The film has been a phenomenon in local cinema network, which has long been dominated by foreign-made films. Bar Girls raked in VND1.5 billion ($ 98,039) in its first ten days of screening, the highest figure ever in Vietnam over the last ten years and a dream for any local film producer. The story revolves around the life of two young girls working in bars and discotheques with the danger of HIV/AIDS always lurking in the background. Hanh, played by Minh Thu, grows up on the streets as her mother left her to marry a man in Cambodia and find a better life. In contrast Hoa (My Duyen), still a juvenile, comes from a well-off family, indulging herself with careless abandon.

The film exposes the dark corners of a job scorned by Vietnamese society. Behind colored lights and expensive perfume and outfits are girls vomiting in toilets after drinking alcohol or taking drugs, and being scolded or even beaten for not going with clients. The film takes viewers deeply into the reality of life as a bar girl minus the cosmetics and sexy outfits.

"I'm 23. I don't want to die," cries Hanh, during her battle with AIDS. Hoa's fate is equally unpleasant. The film is a wake-up call about the degradation of some youth and the subsequent responsibility of each person, family and society. "No one can quite believe that the "House Full" sign is going up in many cinemas," commented the Dai Doan Ket (Great Unity) newspaper. In Thang Long cinema, 4,600 tickets for the film were sold out in the first days of screening. "The film has attracted audiences of 1,000 each day, a record that even the Hollywood blockbuster The Mummy Returns can't match," said the director of the Toan Thang cinema.

The film has attracted viewers more than the seductive Jennifer Lopez can Maid in Manhattan, which is also drawing in a large number of cinemagoers, remarked the Van Hoa (Culture) newspaper. Except for average sound quality and a number of unresolved climaxes, the film is meticulously made with unusual shooting techniques. Perhaps this explains for the large audiences, of whom bar girls account for a significant number.

This is also the first time the film producer, Giai Phong (Liberation) Films, has dished out a large sum for advertising a film, around VND60 million ($ 3,898). Observers say Bar Girls is a "breakthrough" for the country's flagging movie industry, escaping from the prolonged "silent attitude" of audiences to locally-made films, as no other film has attracted such a flood of viewers, thought critics claim Luoi Troi (Heaven's Net), the first anti-corruption motion picture made in Vietnam, may prompt similar enthusiasm.

Material from Saigon Giai Phong - February 19, 2003.