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BackArts & Culture » Film & TV » Despite Drama at Home, Vietnamese Film 'Rom' Wins Important Award at Busan Film Fest

Despite legal issues at home, Vietnamese feature film Rom was awarded the top prize in the New Currents category at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) last week.

According to Variety, Rom shared the honor with Iraq-Qatar co-production Haifa Street. The New Currents program highlights the debut or second directorial work by new Asian directors. Each winner is awarded US$30,000 by the organizer.

Rom is the first movie by Vietnamese director Tran Dung Thanh Huy. It chronicles the hardship of homeless kids on the streets of Saigon through the story of Rom, the titular character. They have to find every means possible to survive, from selling lottery tickets to shining shoes.

The gritty, ultra-realistic depiction of Saigon in Rom impressed the New Currents jury, who praised “the use of real, live locations” and the film’s “very satisfying” ending, Variety reports.

Saigon's homeless kids are the star of Rom.

While the screenings during BIFF were the first time the movie hit theaters anywhere in the world, Rom is not an unfamiliar name among Vietnam’s cinema insiders. It was developed from Huy’s award-winning short 16:30, which was screened as part of the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. The short film was also the young director’s graduation project in university, and it took him seven years to produce the full-length version.

“I remember during World Cup 2014, people flocked to quán to watch the matches and there was a lot of shouting, but I pretended that I was deaf and continued writing [Rom],” Huy told Lao Dong in Vietnamese. “Seven years, it was almost all my youth, from 20 to 27 years old.”

Rom is played by Tran Minh Khoa.

Rom’s surprising win is the first time a feature film from Vietnam received the prestigious New Currents jury award at BIFF. In 2006, director Luu Huynh’s Ao Lua Ha Dong (The White Silk Dress), also screened as part of New Currents, was bestowed the KNN Award for being an audience favorite.

The accolade seems to have overshadowed Rom’s licensing issues in Vietnam, though the commotion might make it difficult for fans here to see Rom in theaters.

When it was announced that the film would compete at BIFF, the movie’s production company, HKFilm, got into trouble with the Vietnam Cinema Department (under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism) for submitting a feature movie to an international film festival without acquiring a distribution license.

A scene taking place in a hẻm in Saigon.

Talking to Tuoi Tre, ministry spokesperson Nguyen Thai Binh said that the production company has infringed Vietnam’s Cinema Law and could be subjected to a fine of VND10–15 million. On September 23, upon being chastised by the cinema department, HKFilm sent a request to BIFF to withdraw the movie from the event, but eventually the festival decided to move forward with the screening and award.

The Busan International Film Festival is one of Asia’s most prominent cinema events celebrating local talents. This year’s festival ran from October 3 to 12. Vietnam had five movies in the screening schedule, more than any year in BIFF history, including Rom in the New Currents category; Thua Me Con Di (Goodbye Mother), Anh Trai Yeu Quai (Dear Evil Brother), Bac Kim Thang (Home Sweet Home) and Bi Mat Cua Gio (Secrets of the Wind) in the A Window on Asian Cinema category.

[Photos courtesy of HKFilm via Tuoi Tre]

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