Hope for languishing Hong Kong film industry

April 13, 2007 • Culture & Trends, Film

What a difference a year makes. It was all doom and gloom for the Hong Kong film industry when its premiere film awards were given out last year.

What a difference a year makes. It was all doom and gloom for the Hong Kong film industry when its premiere film awards were given out last year.

The number of home-grown productions had dipped to an all-time low of 51, compared to 55 the year before.

And while box office takings had risen marginally by 0.22 per cent from 2005 to HK$907 million ($176 million), the market share of local films stagnated at 31 per cent.

Only two offerings, Fearless and Rob-B-Hood, managed to muscle into the year’s top-grossing list dominated by Hollywood blockbusters like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.

But at the 3rd Entertainment Expo Hong Kong held last month, industry players made all the right noises that a turnaround is in sight.

Almost to a man, they summed it up in one word: China.

“Now that Cepa is in place,” comedian-turned-producer Raymond Wong told Today at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, “we have hope for the future.”

Cepa, or Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement between Hong Kong and China, allows Hong Kong companies to operate under different rules in China.

Under the third phase of Cepa introduced last year, Hong Kong films can now be shown in their original Cantonese versions in neighbouring Guangzhou province.

According to Wong, this development has been nothing short of a boon for Hong Kong production houses. Comparing the box office takings of his company’s release last year, Dragon Tiger Gate, he noted that the Donnie Yen action picture took home HK$12 million in Hong Kong but on the mainland, it grossed in excess of HK$40 million.

That’s not surprising, considering that there are now 1,300 cinemas boasting 3,000 screens nationwide.

And the pie looks set to grow even larger.

Last year’s box office receipts in China leapt an astounding 30 per cent from 2005 to RMB2.62 billion ($514 million). Co-productions with Hong Kong, such as The Banquet, chomped up a market share of 55 per cent.

Piracy, of course, remains a bugbear. But recent news that the Chinese government will increase jail terms and fines for convicted pirates must have added to the mood of optimism.

At the same time, the Hong Kong government, known for its hands-off policy in letting private enterprise find its own level, has decided to roll up its sleeves.

It’ll put together a HK$300-million package to finance small and mid-budget films. The rationale is that such productions are the ones that can create the critical mass to get the industry humming again.

“Film is not like any sector,” explained Raymond Yip, assistant executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, on why the government has got into the act.

“It has a high strategic importance because apart from generating economic returns such as tourism and in the service sectors, film also helps to project an image of the country.”

And what has projected Hong Kong’s image best over the past couple of months is the reflected glory from The Departed, the Martin Scorsese remake of Infernal Affairs (2002) that picked up four Academy Awards in February.


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