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The war with the US may have ended in 1975, but the path to heal the repercussions of the protracted conflict was a slow one for Vietnam. The country missed out on plenty of filming opportunities in the 1980s and 1990s when Thailand was chosen frequently as a double for the then war-torn country, as seen in many high-profile international productions, such as Rambo: First Blood Part II, Good Morning, Vietnam, Heaven And Earth and Tomorrow Never Dies.

Now Vietnam has started to open up, with the 2017 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings held in Danang and the 2019 North Korea-US Summit in Hanoi.

The country is long and narrow, stretching along the South China Sea. From the north to the middle and the south it has a wide variety of natural wonders such as tropical forests, mountainous terrain, rice fields and terraces, and paradise-like islands, most of which are left unexplored and unseen on screen.

Recent Productions

It was this untapped potential that lured Warner Bros’ Kong: Skull Island to Vietnam in 2015. With the entire cast including Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L Jackson and Brie Larson, and 120 crew members on site, it is one of the biggest Hollywood films to shoot in Southeast Asia in recent years.

The mythical home of Kong was filmed mostly on location in the northern province of Ninh Binh, the ancient capital of Vietnam in the 11th century. Situated about 100 kilometres from Hanoi, the area is known for its karst landscape dominated by hundreds of limestone rock towers, intricate waterways and cave passages.

The success of the monster film has propelled Vietnam onto the world stage like never before. Local tour operators were quick to put together special packages for those wanting to visit the real filming locations that were featured.

Realising the enormous potential of film tourism — in the same way Danny Boyle’s The Beach contributed to Thailand’s tourism industry in the early 2000s — the Vietnamese government is now drafting a new cinema law to better support incoming productions, although tax breaks are not yet readily available.

According to the Vietnam Cinema Department, more than 20 international productions have shot in the country each year for the past few years. In 2018, the list included Disney’s Artemis Fowl directed by Kenneth Branagh and due for release in May 2020, which shot partially in Ho Chi Minh City, and one episode of NBC’s network drama series This Is Us.

Infrastructure and crews

Vietnam’s film industry is young but growing rapidly, churning out 45 films last year. The development of the local film sector is also being driven by South Korea’s CJ Entertainment, which has set up shop in the country, partly for the local remakes of its Korean titles such as Miss Granny and Sunny, both of which became huge local hits. The local production crews are not (yet) as skilled as those from Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, but their willingness to learn and hard-working, friendly natures go a long way to making up for it. Local production costs remain relatively low and a wide range of hotels and restaurants will meet the budget and standard of any production.

Size matters

Located on the eastern edge of the Indochinese peninsula, Vietnam is a long, narrow country that stretches along the South China Sea. Two of the country’s largest rivers, Mekong and Red, end at the South China Sea deltas, which are home to most of the country’s population.

First person to contact

Le Thi Thu Ha, Vietnam Cinema Department

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