In 2010, five years after its first being broadcast across Vietnam, Full House became the first Korean TV drama to be remade in this country. Its protagonist, singer/actor Rain (known as Bi in Korean) and Song Hye-Kyo have enjoyed ever-increasing fandom in Vietnam since the broadcast of the original show. Nearly a decade has passed and the number of Vietnamese remakes of Korean films and dramas has significantly increased. The public reception, however, varies greatly.

The Good

Gạo Nếp Gạo Tẻ – Wang’s Family

Gạo Nếp Gạo Tẻ (GNGT or Rice and Sticky Rice, literally translated) is a television series on day-to-day problems of three generations of a northern Vietnamese family living in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City. It is the remake of a 2013’s Korean KBS2 big hit, Wang’s Family (왕가네 식구들).

Produced in 2016 and broadcast in 2018, GNGT became a huge success on HTV2. The broadcast station’s YouTube Channel received nearly 200 million views for the series specifically and this number is on the steady rise. It is not exaggeration to say GNGT is attracting the most Vietnamese viewers currently. The positive reception has encouraged the series’ director Nguyen Hoang Anh to make 100 episodes more.

Posters of "Wang's Family" (KBS2)

Posters of “Wang’s Family” (KBS2)

Poster of "Gạo Nếp Gạo Tẻ"

Poster of “Gạo Nếp Gạo Tẻ”

The key to its success is that what has been depicted on the screen about the family of Mr. Vuong (Mai Huynh) and Mrs. Mai (Hong Van) together with her three daughters, Huong (Le Phuong), Han (Thuy Ngan) and Minh (Phuong Hang) has touched the right chord of many Vietnamese: they can realise here and there images of people they know, love, hate and share life with rather than stories about alien people living in a far away country. Apparently, the production team after nearly five years of hard work has successfully translated cultural codes from South Korean into Vietnamese, and thus instilled full local flavor in the series.

Tháng Năm Rực Rỡ  – Sunny

Posters of "Sunny" and its Vietnamese remake, "Go-go Sisters" [Photo courtesy:]

Posters of “Sunny” and its Vietnamese remake, “Go-go Sisters” [Photo courtesy:]

Tháng Năm Rực Rỡ or Go-Go Sisters (GGS) can be called a twin sister of Sunny directed by Kang Hyeong-cheo, and it is also produced by CJ Entertainment. GGS follows rather close its original ranging from the key events to the alternation of present and past viewpoints. What makes GGS really stand out and on its own feet is how the story was sophisticatedly contextualised to Vietnam’s society. Dalat of 1974-1975 is portrayed vivid and poetic, and against that setting, Wild Horses gang spent their youthful years and witnessed key ups and downs of the whole country like the students’ democratic movement or popular pre-1975 songs. These points have made up some flaws and helped the movie win the hearts of the local audience. The movie is also a chance for new faces like Hoang Yen Chibi (Hieu Phuong/Na-mi), Hoang Oanh (My Dung/Ha Chun-hwa) to assert their acting competence and thus be remembered by the local audience.

The Bad

Sắc Đẹp Ngàn Cân – 200 Pounds Beauty

Released in 2006, 200 Pounds Beauty enjoyed over 6.1 million viewers in Korea. The movie tapped into one intriguing issue facing the Korean showbiz: you need a beautiful face first to be recognized and thus, plastic surgery is essential. Twelve years later, the story is retold to Vietnamese audience, of course, with everything being localised.

Poster of "Sắc Đẹp Ngàn Cân" - Vietnamese remake of 200 Pounds Beauty

Poster of “Sắc Đẹp Ngàn Cân” – Vietnamese remake of “200 Pounds Beauty”

Truong Ngoc Anh, the producer of the Vietnamese remake and director James Ngo decided to play safe when they basically copied everything of the original from the plot about the characters’ lines. This might have made the audience who used to watch 200 Pounds Beauty feel like they were watching the movie again; the only difference is the actors are not Korean and thus do not speak Korean. Coupled with the inexperienced acting which leads to the poor chemistry between the two protagonists, the remake was not positively received despite the huge success of the original one.

And…the Unpredictable

Hậu Duệ Mặt Trời – Descendants of the Sun

Descendants of the Sun (DOTS) was a major hit in South Korea where it drew a peak audience share of 38.8%, and gained popularity across Asia. It is favoured in Vietnam so much that despite sizeable differences between the two countries’ national defense system and political climate, the Vietnamese production team decided to localize the series.

The Cast from Vietnamese Descendants of the Sun

The Cast from Vietnamese Descendants of the Sun

Casting young faces who are popular models, singers or actors, the remake ‘Hậu Duệ Mặt Trời’ follows the similar stance to the original storyline while trying to make a few changes to suit the Vietnamese context. The first few episodes were actually not well-received, especially when the image of Vietnamese army was incorrectly depicted (i.e. army salute, rights and obligations according to ranks). However, as the series goes on, the local audience seemed to show positive response, particularly to scenes which are actually the innovative ideas of the remake production team. Some admits that they now enjoy the remake even more than the original series.

In short…

Script has been a critical weakness of Vietnamese films and dramas. Remaking is a strategic resolution that local production teams have been using quite effectively. A trend stands out through the few cases mentioned above: what to adopt and adapt is the key to the success of a remake regarding culture proximity. “Too close” or the remake is nothing but a copycat without local flavours which the local audience can hardly be identified with. Failure is thus the matter of time. However, with careful research and well-translated stories, the remake can have its own life which may be even more successful in locals’ hearts.

By Thu Ngo