With Covid restrictions steadily easing up, things have started to regain some sense of normalcy. Bars are open, restaurants are busy, schools are… well, that’s another issue. But at least we’ve now been given the option to go to the cinema and watch movies on the big screen, the way god intended. Film and video have been growing at a steady 2.4% per year, since 2015. Even China has started to pour in major coin into the industry, acknowledging it’s potential for projecting soft power. They’re now the biggest box office market in the world, surpassing even the US. Good point of drunk conversation then to discuss the state of film in the region, ranking the ASEAN movie industry, and seeing what sort of potential future there might be for ASEAN film.
First, here are some nice tables.
Top 15 ASEAN Movies of the Last 10 Years
Thanks to lingering curiosity, I dug deep into the internet (well, one Google search) and was lucky to find The Numbers, which has a partial database of movies made by each country, per year, along with their reported box office takings. From their annual tables, I’ve compiled this list of the Top 15 movies produced by ASEAN-member countries based on revenue.
Why top 15? Well, had we stopped at the Top 10, Vietnam wouldn’t have even been on the list. And that would have made for a very short article indeed. Why 10 years? Because it’s a nice even number. At any rate, here’s the list:
|Country||Box Office||Top-Grossing Movie||Year|
|Thailand||$8,562,679||7 Guardians of the Tomb||2018|
|Malaysia||$5,040,918||Upin & Ipin: Keris Siamang Tunggal||2019|
|Thailand||$4,852,964||Loong Boonmee raleuk chat||2011|
|Indonesia||$4,109,705||Wiro Sableng 212||2018|
|Philippines||$3,919,271||Everything About Her||2016|
|Viet Nam||$3,876,671||Em La Ba Noi Cua Anh||2015|
|Singapore||$3,741,289||The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir||2018|
|Thailand||$3,313,962||Xuan feng jiu ri||2015|
We could stop there of course, and just let the conversation continue about the questionable quality of locally produced films, but let’s take it a step further and use “hard” data from a the most “reliable” source on the planet: IMDB. Notice the liberal use of quotation marks there?
|Country||Box Office||Top-Grossing Movie||IMDB|
|Malaysia||$5,040,918||Upin & Ipin: Keris Siamang Tunggal||7.9|
|Philippines||$3,919,271||Everything About Her||7.2|
|Indonesia||$4,109,705||Wiro Sableng 212||7.1|
|Viet Nam||$3,876,671||Em La Ba Noi Cua Anh||7|
|Singapore||$3,741,289||The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir||6.9|
|Thailand||$3,313,962||Xuan feng jiu ri||6.8|
|Thailand||$4,852,964||Loong Boonmee raleuk chat||6.7|
|Thailand||$8,562,679||7 Guardians of the Tomb||4.5|
Considering that the “average” IMDB score is about 7, this doesn’t really bode well for most of the Thai entries, though it is quite pleasing to see an ASEAN kids movie at the top of this chart. An animated one at that. Which, leads us to the meatier part of this article.
ASEAN Film – What Next?
The Market Exists
With a young, and growing population, ASEAN stands to benefit from some soft power as well. Given, the ASEAN has never been a particularly unified group, there’s not a single currency, intercountry travel is still time-restricted, and even language will prove to be an issue. However, with just under 700 million people in the region, there just might be some hope to use film as a way to create better visibility for everyone here. After all, if Disney has been able to cash in on the local mythology and scenery, this means that there’s a market here.
China made (makes?) bad films, but quality has been steadily improving, and now they’re bankrolling big name Hollywood productions. Plus, with the aforementioned Chinese market size enough to make US film studios kowtow to Beijing on the fear of losing that market, what’s stopping this part of the world from pulling it’s weight? Well, what, aside from spending power (which is also growing steadily)
Examples for Korea and Japan
Another question to ponder – what the best way to export films and develop soft culture? Japan and Korea, two other Asian powerhouses when it comes to exporting soft culture, have been able to carve their own niches. Where China is aiming for blockbusters, Korea has been able to corner the niche for what I’d simply refer to as “quirky”.
Zombies? Check. Mass murder? Check. Action-drama? Check. Romantic comedies? Check. Many of these Korean films have already been remade by Hollywood, with varying success. I still haven’t forgiven them for ruining my childhood. I’m sure certain ASEAN plots would be taken up readily by Western audiences if they were well made, even the story doesn’t make any sense. Looking at you Squid Game.
And as for Japan, they basically own hand drawn animation, both feature length films, and TV series. Perhaps, this might be a good way to start getting into the game. As the IMDB list shows, animated kids shows can be a top draw, and would be an easy niche to export across the ASEAN itself.
Another Type of Export
|Country||Screens||Local Films||Revenue||Film as % of GDP|
|Laos||No Data||No Data||No Data||No Data|
So yeah, quantity can increase visibility, but quality is what makes the money. The US overall entertainment industry (including films, regular TV, streaming services, etc) contribute about 504 billion USD to the economy, or about 3% of GDP. Of course that’s a mature market, and one of their main soft power exports – but that’s probably the general direction China will take as well.
Sure, actual physical exports might be able to create dependable jobs at a much faster pace (and ASEAN countries should definitely keep hammering at it), but in the end, manufacturing will always chase the lowest cost country. This happened with Korea and Japan, with cheap electronics. It might be a good idea to invest in soft power industries along with actual heavy industry.
ASEAN cinema still has a long way to go, not only in terms of quality, but also in distribution. It would be good to have kids in the future talk about some ASEAN made film the same way we now discuss cultural keystones like Marvel Movies, anime, or various Netflix series. Cheap cinema tickets is one of the better things about living in this part of the world.
Would perhaps be interesting to dig even deeper and get stats on Netflix use within the region, or get Box Office revenue information from other more local sources, but I hope this short and oversimplified look into ASEAN cinema was an interesting starting point for good conversation.
Which good ASEAN movies and series are currently streaming on Netflix? Any suggestions? Leave your thoughts on the comments section!