Vietnam makes tourism ambassador of King Kong director
Box office success fires official interest in attracting foreign filmmakers
HO CHI MINH CITY -- Vietnam has made Jordan Charles Vogt-Roberts, director of the Hollywood blockbuster Kong Skull Island, a tourism ambassador for the U.S. and the U.K. for the next three years.
Vogt-Roberts is the first foreigner appointed to this role. Vietnam hopes he and other foreign filmmakers will help stimulate tourist arrivals, Nguyen Van Tuan, the director general of Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, told reporters on Monday. At present, only 6% of internationals visitors plan a second visit.
The $185-million Kong Skull Island, produced by Warner Bros, Legendary Entertainment, and Tencent Productions, hit screens worldwide on Friday. The movie took an unprecedented 18.2 billion dong ($800,000) on its first day in Vietnam, according to CJ CGV, the South Korean distribution company that controlled 43% of Vietnam's cinema market in 2016.
In the first weekend, box office takings surpassed 62 billion dong ($2.75 million), a 52% improvement on the previous best, Fast and Furious 7. Overall revenue has reached $142 million, including $61 million in North America.
Around 70% of the King Kong film was shot with spectacular Vietnamese natural backdrops in Quang Ninh, Ninh Binh, and Quang Binh provinces. Ha Long bay, Trang An, and Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park appeared on screen as never seen before to the delight of local audiences. Other parts of the film featured Hawaii and Australia.
Tourist agencies are already marketing a new tour of the three provinces: Kong: Skull Island Road in Vietnam. Quang Binh hopes the film will help it attract three million visitors this year, a 30% increase on 2016. The southern coastal city was affected by serious pollution last year, which Vietnamese media traced to discharge from a Taiwanese steel plant in an industrial zone.
The local movie industry is hungry for Hollywood filmmakers as a revenue earner and employment source, and also to train home talent. Thanh Nguyen, a local film investor, has missed opportunities to work with Western film companies on numerous occasions because of Vietnam's tangled regulations. "This film promised a new age for Vietnam's movie industry," Thanh said.
Since 1975, there have been over 70 significant Western films made about Vietnam, most relating to the wars in Indochina. These include Coming Home, Born on the 4th of July, Apocalyse Now, and Full Metal Jacket. These were made abroad in places like the Philippines, Thailand, and Cambodia that provided easier substitutes.
Directors like Oliver Stone, who made Platoon, Pinkville (about the My Lai massacre in 1968), and Heaven & Earth, ran into problems obtaining filming licenses for Vietnam because of sensitive screenplays or complicated equipment permits.
In 1995, the makers of the 18th James Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies, planned to spend some $30 million shooting in Vietnam after President Bill Clinton's visit, but had to settle for Thailand when access was declined at the last minute. That got Vietnam delisted for a while from a number projects. Movies that did get made, including Indochine, The Lover, and The Quiet American, did not focus on the broader Vietnamese landscape. Fairy tale scenes from Warner Brothers' Pan 2015 were shot in the same three Vietnamese provinces, however.
For the King Kong film, Jordan wanted a tropical island as a home for the giant ape where he could battle traditional animal enemies and human intruders. Vietnam provided the "perfect aesthetic", he said. "That kind of location does not exist anywhere else in the world, and I tried to shoot as much of the movie [as possible] in real locations."
Last February, the director arrived with 120 crew and actors, and some 40 tons of equipment to work with local partners on the fantasy blockbuster. "We broke ground being the first movie to shoot at large scale," said Jordan. "The door has just opened -- more filmmakers will come."
Jordan has plans to settle for a while in Vietnam and work with the local industry. He will move to Ho Chi Minh City to work on a personal project with a Vietnamese and international cast, and is also preparing to shoot in Son Doong, the world's largest cave.