Capsule Review: Bố Già (Dad, I’m Sorry) (2021)

Here’s a film that famously outgrossed Netflix’s 2019 martial arts actioner Furie, which made VND200 billion in both domestic and international box office. By contrast, the film in question — Bố Già (Dad, I’m Sorry) — has reportedly earned a whopping VND400 billion, making it the highest-grossing local film in Vietnam.

Based on the hit web series of the same name, which premiered on YouTube early last year with five episodes in total, the comedy-drama follows Sang (Trấn Thành) a sixtysomething single father who lives with his YouTuber son, Woan (Tuấn Trần) and daughter Bu Tot (Ngân Chi) in a low-income neighbourhood in Saigon.

Directed by Trấn Thành and Vũ Ngọc Đãng, Bố Già (Dad, I’m Sorry) covers everything you come to expect from a film that focuses on intergenerational family dynamics. The film started out as a hit-and-miss comedy, with some of them goes overboard desperately scoring for a few laughs. If you can put up with that, the film does reward you with a surprisingly better-than-expected tonal shift from its initially over-the-top comedic tone to a tragic yet poignant drama.

The latter is where the film excels the most as the story spends more time exploring the increasingly conflicted relationship between Sang and Woan. Although it still has its fair share of shortcomings, where some of the individual scenes are hastily resolved (an unexpected twist involving one of the characters comes to mind). The film also tends to rely heavily on the typical melodramatic approach, complete with the obligatory montage cues and emotionally manipulative music score.

Acting is generally good, with Trấn Thành and Tuấn Trần’s respective performances as Sang and Woan stand out the most. From the technical point of view, Bố Già (Dad, I’m Sorry) features some impressive long takes, notably the opening scene that tracks from the establishing shot of Saigon’s low-income neighbourhood to the residents’ daily activities and finally, introducing some of the characters in the family — all seamlessly filmed in a continuous, uninterrupted shot. And despite clocking over two hours long (128 minutes, to be exact), the film isn’t as protracted as I thought it would be.