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Movie Critique: Live: Phat Truc Tiep (2023) directed by Khuong Ngoc
Movie Critique: Live: Phat Truc Tiep (2023) directed by Khuong Ngoc

Movie Critique: Live: Phat Truc Tiep (2023) directed by Khuong Ngoc

What lengths will individuals go to in order to gain popularity?

Recently, the theme of social media and the extreme measures people take to gain online fame has been a prevalent subject in cinema. This trend is also reflected in films from ASEAN countries, where social networking sites play a significant role in daily life. Khuong Ngoc, a singer and actor turned director, shares his perspective on this topic through two extreme stories.

Phat Truc Tiep will be shown in theaters across the US beginning on November 17, thanks to 3388 films.

In the setting of the film, which could be either present or future, two popular platforms called Mukbang and Reviewer dominate the social media landscape. These platforms attract potential influencers who strive to gain followers, fans, views, and most importantly, virtual gifts known as “flowers.” Truc, an aspiring Mukbanger, attempts to gain fame by consuming large portions of sometimes unappetizing food, even to the point of risking her health. Emi, a top celebrity in Mukbang, looks down on Truc until Truc discovers a pill that increases her appetite and boosts her own popularity. As their rivalry intensifies, they become arch enemies and engage in a fierce competition.

In the second tale, Hoang, a highly-regarded Reviewer, becomes embroiled in a deadly scandal that results in him being blamed as the primary culprit. As a result, his once-favorable reputation takes a nosedive and he is essentially canceled, struggling to make ends meet and facing constant criticism from those around him.

Khuong Ngoc skillfully portrays two distinct narratives that effectively showcase the repercussions of internet, social media, and fame addiction, which have become increasingly prevalent in many parts of the world. The film’s commentary is thought-provoking, delving into the depths of the human mind beyond just the consequences of the online world. One of the main themes explored in the first story is the allure of sex and human suffering in all its forms for online viewers, which Ngoc portrays with a direct and occasionally grotesque approach. The movie also sheds light on the disturbing fact that both content creators and viewers are willing to indulge in this behavior, with some even paying to witness others being humiliated. This serves as a poignant reminder of the broader context depicted in the film.

The visuals in the first part are incredibly stunning and require effort to fully comprehend their context. Not only are there a large number of diverse scenes that rapidly pass by, but the color, set design, and sound all contribute to a setting that initially seems absurd but gradually becomes nightmarish. The final broadcast is particularly shocking, with Ngoc using crude tactics to mock the protagonists and effectively convey his message while also keeping the viewer entertained (with a strong stomach).

The second half, however, shifts to a slower pace and less visually stimulating approach in order to showcase a more traditional dramatic plot centered around the concept of cancel culture. The downward spiral of a once well-regarded reviewer towards disgrace and ultimate downfall is devastating to witness, as it accurately reflects the harsh realities of the industry. Once again, Ngoc critiques both parties for their extreme actions, with content creators chasing fame and audiences quick to abandon their previous idols.

Simultaneously, there is another intriguing aspect in play where the two main characters take contrasting journeys – one from the bottom to the top and the other from the top to the bottom. This adds to the overall portrayal of how the unique world functions.

Ngoc asks a lot of his protagonists, and they manage to deliver fully. Ngoc Phuoc as Truc is impressive in her obsession and the way she loses her grip on reality as time passes. The antithesis with Kha Nhu’s Emi also works quite well here, particularly since the latter starts from the top only to be dragged down in her similar pursuit of fame. Quốc Khánh as Hoang highlights his demise, and his failing effort to prevent it quite convincingly, rounding up the overall excellent acting aspect here. 

“Live: Phat Truc Tiep” is an excellent film that manages to eloquently communicate its plethora of comments while also retaining entertainment through an approach that moves towards comedic, dramatic and even horror paths.