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 four years.
Vogt-Roberts is the first non-Vietnamese appointed to the position. Vietnam hopes he and other foreign filmmakers will encourage people to visit the country, Nguyen Van Tuan, director general of Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, told reporters on March 13. At present, only 6% of international visitors to the country plan a second visit.
The $185 million "Kong: Skull Island," produced by Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, and Tencent Pictures, hit screens worldwide on March 10. The movie took in 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 its first weekend, the movie's box office takings topped 62 billion dong, beating the previous champion, "Fast and Furious 7," by 52%. Worldwide revenue has reached $142 million, including $61 million in North America.
Around 70% of the King Kong film was shot against the spectacular backdrops of Vietnam's Quang Ninh, Ninh Binh, and Quang Binh provinces. Ha Long Bay, the Trang An landscape 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.
SILVER SCREEN Agencies are already marketing a new tour of the three provinces called Kong: Skull Island Road in Vietnam. Quang Binh hopes the film will help it attract 3 million visitors this year, a 30% increase versus 2016. Tourism in the area was hurt by pollution last year, which Vietnamese media traced to discharge from a Taiwanese steel plant.
The local movie industry is hungry for business from Hollywood as a source of revenue and employment, and also to train Vietnamese talent. Thanh Nguyen, a local film investor, has often missed out on opportunities to work with Western filmmakers because of Vietnam's tangled regulations. "This film promises a new age for Vietnam's movie industry," Thanh said.
Since 1975, there have been over 70 major Western films made about Vietnam, most relating to the wars in Indochina. These include "Coming Home," "Born on the Fourth of July," "Apocalypse Now," and "Full Metal Jacket." These were made in places like the Philippines, Thailand, and Cambodia, which provided easier substitutes.
Directors such as Oliver Stone, who made "Platoon," "Pinkville" (about the My Lai Massacre in 1968) and "Heaven & Earth," have run into problems obtaining filming licenses in Vietnam because of politically sensitive screenplays or complicated permitting procedures for bringing over equipment.
In 1995, the makers of the 18th James Bond film, "Tomorrow Never Dies," planned to spend some $30 million shooting in Vietnam after then-U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit, but had to settle for Thailand when approval was denied at the last minute. That got Vietnam blacklisted for a while with a number projects. Movies that did get made, including "Indochine," "The Lover," and "The Quiet American," did not focus on the broader Vietnamese landscape. The 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, a place where he could battle enemies both animal and human. 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."