Southeast Asia is one of the most variegated corners of the world, and it is displayed in the diversified stages of development of the region’s film industries. Considering the popularity and economic power, this ranges from the rural lands of Laos (where just 2/3 films are made every year) to the booming modern contemporaneous Singapore (presence of the local corporate outposts of Disney and Netflix). Moreover, the market potential is also varying from raw underdeveloped markets to universally appreciated production prowess. Even after these glaring differences, a sense of positive momentum is uniting the region’s most of the film communities. More-developed countries are regularly making an impact on the international festival circuits when cinema growth in developing markets is paving the way of returns for Hollywood and rallying budgets and production potential of local studios.
Let’s take a look at the key factors that are giving the push the Southeast Asian film industries needed. Therefore, we will also discuss the 5 potential leaders in the markets of the film industries of this region.
Current situation of the indie filmmakers in Southeast Asia on the international level:
Monster Jimenez, a producer from the Philippines, pointed out a few of the obstacles facing Southeast Asian independent cinema while speaking at the Purin Pictures Round table industry event in Bangkok in July. According to her, during accessing funding or distribution, forced to compete for the same limited resources, despite the diversity of content emerging from around 10 film-producing nations across the region. films from Southeast Asia are often lumped together as a genre.
While talking about her produced Treb Monteras’s Respeto, about the friendship between a young rapper and an older poet. Jimenez said, “I’ve had a hard time convincing sales agents that my film was a hip-hop film, not a Southeast Asian film,” she also added “I hope that five years from now, every film we make can stand alongside those from Japan, Korea, and France and get the same crack at the funding. It feels like we’re competing with the rest of the world but we’re always at a disadvantage.”
Here’s a closer look at the fine key countries that are leading the expansions of Southeast Asian cinema.
Home to the regional headquarters of entertainment giants like Lucasfilm, HBO, and Netflix, Singapore is easily the region’s most promising market for entertainment. Also, boasting one of the highest per-capita cinema attendance rates in the world at 4.2 visits a year even though the box office, and media consumption generally, are no longer growing. However, total ticket revenue in the country has hovered at about $150 million for the past five years, according to Artisan Gateway.
Most of the territory’s most forward-looking production companies are venturing outward. While 2018 saw prolific runs by locally produced romantic comedies such as Jack Neo’s Lunar New Year hit “Wonderful! Liang Xi Mei”, there’s an increasing number of filmmakers who are trying to seek opportunities to cast their net farther in different genres. An example from the last year was Singapore-born director Sandi Tan’s critically acclaimed Netflix documentary Shirkers, which is about the search for a lost (or stolen) film. The film took home Singapore’s first World Cinema Documentary Directing Award at Sundance.
“In Singapore, we have had a lot of success with festival films but not so much in the entertainment genre,” according to the Taipan Films producer Juan Foo. “We are trying to push visual effects in Singapore, so this will show the world what we can do.”
At Cannes in the year 2018, Southeast Asia’s only representative was the omnibus feature “Ten Years Thailand”, a local remake of the hit Hong Kong political dystopia “Ten Years from 2016”. Following the template set by the Hong Kong original, “Ten Years Thailand” is comprised of four shorts by four directors, each depicting an Orwellian vision of how things in their country might go awry one decade down the road. The shorts include Palme d’Or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Song of the City, which revolves around a man’s attempt to sell a “sleep machine;” Aditya Assarat’s Sunset, which is about a soldier dispatched to investigate an art show; Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s Planetarium, a classic satire of Thailand’s elites; and Wisit Sasanatieng’s Catopia, a horror-tinged allegory about cat people preying upon humans.
However, international productions have frequently used Thailand as a backdrop, all the way back to the days of Bruce Lee’s “The Big Boss” in 1971, the film where Hollywood started to notice the iconic Hong Kong star’s talents.
The Thailand Film Office published a report in January that there were 74 international productions shot in the country in 2018 as international producers started to use a recently announced tax rebate of 15 percent, offered to foreign productions that spend more than 50 million baht ($1.6 million) locally.
For a mainstream critical take on Thailand’s inequities, we can take a look at the 2017 teenage blockbuster “Bad Genius”, which earned about $50 million worldwide. The film is directed by Nattawut Poonpiriya. It follows the story of under-privileged scholarship students who are induced by the children of elites into participating in a test-rigging scheme to survive in the country’s semi-corrupt education system.
Indonesia has the most prominent growing market potential in the region of Southeast Asia. The country has a population of 262 million people with a median age of 28 (compared to 38 in the US), which means the citizenry of this country is exceptionally young. Therefore, it is considered as a boon for entertainment consumption.
However, Indonesia’s Investment Coordinating Board equates that to 0.4 screens per 100,000 people. In the States, there are 14 screens per 100,000 people; and even in China, it’s 1.8.
But the situation is changing fast, as the Indonesian government reduces restrictions on outside investment in movie houses. It is predicted that the number of movie screens across Indonesia will double to more than 3,000 within the next three years. “We expect significant growth, as both local and international cinema players fulfill that market’s screen capacity potential, and Hollywood, other international imports and local films are participating,” according to Artisan Gateway’s Rance Pow. While box office numbers are already rapidly on the rise, with the Indonesia government reporting more than 42 million film admissions in 2017, compared with about 16 million in 2015. In 2015, local films occupied about 10 percent of tickets sold at Cinemaxx. As of April, local titles represented one-third of its ticket sales for 2018.
“As cinemas are being built, more screens and new markets are being created to exhibit local content,” says Brian Riady, CEO of local exhibition giant Cinemaxx. He told more to the Indonesian business magazine Globe Asia. “So the market for local films is growing, and that enables local producers to be a little more aggressive in how they market their films and invest in larger projects.”
It’s been many years that Vietnam was perceived as an unusual place for international film productions to work. Even though the country has many stunning locations, limitation of industry infrastructure and complications of government approvals process made things hard for the foreign filmmakers. But the recent incident has changed everything positively for the country – a Hollywood heavyweight — Legendary and Warner Bros.’ Kong: Skull Island, which shot in Vietnam for six weeks.
Vietnam is Southeast Asia’s second-most-populous country. The unprecedented success of Le-Van Kiet’s Furie, which earned about 200 billion dongs ($8.6 million) and made a successful limited run in North American cinemas ($600,000) was a significant step in the film industry in the last few years.
Moreover, Vietnamese art house fares regularly make an impact at festivals globally, including the atmospheric Ash Mayfair-directed drama The Third Wife. The film was premiered in Toronto in 2018 and is slated for a U.S. theatrical release on May 15 via Film Movement.
The Vietnamese market is on the move. Artisan Gateway’s Rance Pow was cited “Cinema development and the growing skill and expertise of the local film industry is fueling the expansion of the Vietnam market.”
In conclusion, with a population that is nearly double that of the US, this increasingly developing infrastructure and an expanding middle class, Southeast Asia is absolutely ready to become a major region for moviegoing.