Movie Review: Vietnamese Horror Story (Chuyen Ma Gan Nhà)

With Ghost Month beginning tomorrow (July 29th), it’s not surprising that our cinemas are bringing horror films to their screens. Hongkongers love watching scary movies, especially at this time of year. One local distributor has decided to throw his hat in the ring with VIETNAMESE HORROR STORY, a feature that had Vietnam’s second-highest opening day box office for a local film ever. Granted, covid had closed the cinemas there for a while and people may simply have been happy just to go back but the film has taken in over US$2.5 million domestically since its release in February. That’s pretty impressive but all that goes bump in the night isn’t necessarily frightening.

VIETNAMESE HORROR STORY tells three interwoven stories that are based on local urban legends. It begins with a group of friends meeting up in one friend’s apartment for an evening together. The apartment owner has apparently done well in the movie business, though you can’t tell judging by the size of the place, the furnishings and its noisy location. I guess it’s all relative. The power suddenly goes out and there’s a knock at the door. A mysterious man walks in and sits down. He says he’s cold and he’s hiding his face from the others. What is one to do at that point but tell ghost stories? The first story involves the “Sugarcane Juice Lady”, a very pretty woman who was disfigured in an acid attack. But that’s not the story. It’s about a young woman who wants to be an actress, an older actress who lives in the Sugarcane Juice Lady’s old house, and a bunch of other stuff that makes no sense at all. And the young woman has nightmares.

The second story involves a young man who is an amateur magician. His elderly father, whom he lives with, likes to dabble in the occult. There’s a friendly old lady who lives in a neighbouring flat who, we’re told, likes to play the violin at night, a bunch of headless corpses walk around the neighbourhood terrorizing the young man and then we learn something key about him. Again, it makes no sense either. And the young man has nightmares.

The third story involves an old woman and a younger man who approach a spiritualist for help in finding the old woman’s younger sister who disappeared as a child. The spiritualist has visions that take her to the countryside where stuff happens to her in a field. Eventually, the man finds out what happened to the old woman’s sister and there’s closure. And the spiritualist has nightmares… and a bunch of headless corpses walk around.

To call this a horror film is a gross overstatement. There’s nothing scary here. Maybe something got lost in translation but I found VIETNAMESE HORROR STORY to be badly written, horribly acted by people who should not be in the business and about 90 minutes too long. Director Tran Huu Tan seems to be making a career out of this genre, which just boggles my mind because this film is just a stinking pile of cowpat. Each of the stories on their own had potential but so much of the time I was scratching my head thinking, “Who’s that?” or “Why is that happening?” or “Didn’t the director just use the same trope 30 minutes ago?” I know I wasn’t alone in feeling that way either. Quite a few people walked out of my screening about halfway through, and Hongkongers rarely walk out of films.

VIETNAMESE HORROR STORY opens in Hong Kong on today (July 28th). You’ve been warned. Don’t waste your time on this garbage. I’ve already wasted too much time writing about it.

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