Lack of Successors, Shift to Mainland Chinese Market to Blame for Decline of Hong Kong Movie Industry

Above: Andy Lau and Aaron Kwok continue to dominate Hong Kong films, leaving little room for new talent to be developed.

“Hong Kong cinema is dead” is a claim familiar to many fans – and one they themselves may have bandied about when venting about how the latest release falls short of the films of the past. In an editorial for Tencent Entertainment, film critic Yang Bo (楊波) shares his views on the declining state of the Hong Kong movie industry.

Domination by Older Stars, No New Talent

Hong Kong cinema was founded on a system of creating movie stars, with many films dependent on star power to gain recognition. For example, when one thinks of Hong Kong martial arts movies, the name of a martial arts star – like Jackie Chan (成龍) or Jet Li (李連傑) – is more likely to pop out than the name of a particular movie, though there are undeniably many classics from the golden age.

This system has continued, and for good reason: established actors are still in high demand, and thus more likely to bring in commercial success. But when stars like Andy Lau (劉德華), Aaron Kwok (郭富城), and other actors of their generation dominate the market, they leave little room for newcomers to get a foot in the door.

Looking at the film line-up for this year alone, one notices the same names over and over again: Donnie Yen (甄子丹) with three film projects, Andy Lau with four, and Aaron Kwok with a whopping six movie releases. Producers are even attempting to cram as many big-name stars into one movie as they can, as seen with The White Storm <掃毒>, which features the familiar lineup of Louis Koo (古天樂),  Nick Cheung (張家輝), and Sean Lau (劉青雲). Louis Koo and Sean Lau have starred in twelve films together, generating few surprises for audiences.

While relying on a tried-and-true method is one way to reach for the box office jackpot, the industry must also find a way to develop new talent. Its current stars will only get older, not younger, and there is no possibility of success if the industry neglects to groom successors. Among leading actors in Hong Kong films, only Nicholas Tse (謝霆鋒) is in his early thirties while many stars are already in their forties and fifties.

Faltering Transition to Mainland Chinese Market

In recent years, Hong Kong directors and producers have been eyeing the still-developing mainland Chinese film market, thanks to its commercial lure. But the industry’s tight restrictions on movie themes and language pose an unwelcome ultimatum: either conform with mainland Chinese tastes in the hopes of a redeeming box office return, or stick to a Hong Kong release with its creative freedom but smaller potential audience.

More and more, Hong Kong directors have drifted toward creating the next mainland Chinese blockbuster, causing some to be accused of selling out. Tsui Hark’s (徐克) Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon <狄仁傑之神都龍王>, Gordon Chan’s (陳嘉上) The Four <四大名捕>,  Peter Chan’s (陳可辛) American Dreams in China <中国合伙人>Wong Jing’s  (王晶) The Last Tycoon <大上海>, and Johnnie To’s (杜琪峯) Drug War <毒戰> are a few examples of Hong Kong directors who have created films primarily for the mainland market. Even Edmond Pang (彭浩翔), of Vulgaria <低俗喜劇> fame, seems to be making the transition with his newest project, a romantic comedy featuring mainland Chinese stars Huang Xiaoming (黃曉明) and Zhou Xun (周迅).

But is a Hong Kong film geared for mainland Chinese audiences still a Hong Kong film if it lacks the characteristics unique to one? Perhaps the industry is in decline because directors are stretching themselves too thin, striving to please longtime fans by casting well-known faces, while trying to gain new ground by adapting to a new market. For some directors, the sacrifice may be worth it, but for others, it is just another step down the road to demise.


This article is written by Joanna for

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  1. Very disappointed in this article. This is the reason why the HK govt. should have given the license to HKTV. This is just an excuse for actors and directors to venture into China market. The reason is because $$$$$ and bigger market. It is kind of an agreement to earn money from the mainland, that is, Chinese actors needed to be in the film.

    People said have to depend on famous actors from HK to create box office. I would say NO. Look at other countries such as US, Japan and Korea. If you have a good script and tells the story that impress audiences, I’m sure people will love it.

    HK people are killing their own entertainment industry. Chinese government also play a big part on this as well. Once these old actors couldn’t act no more, this is when the “Hong Kong cinema is TRUELY dead”.

    1. The younger ones should strive more to get connected with all these directors and wealthy mainland producers so that they will be willing to lose money to promote younger stars. Nowadays many of these directors are depending on mainland’s money which also wants guaranteed box office.

      I’m tired of HXM and Zhou Xun. Zhou Xun is already old. China is so big there are lots of younger prettier actresses to choose from.

      1. It’s a typical risk adverse nature of the businessmen that leads to the current situation.

        In HK most of the wealthy are in property and real estate. That’s where the money is.
        Only LKS did diversified from real estate.

        So producers who depend on funding from the business community has to continue applying the old formula vis-a-vis casting senior stars for their production.

        In addition too, our chinese moviegoers tend to worship star-idols and not appreciate talent and skills. So newcomers are not been given the chance.

      2. Only the young (under 25) and pretty qualify as actresses? Only to the shallow-minded.

    2. Who is this stupid chinese critics?

      As we all knew, the golden period for movie actors are from 35 to 55 ,while female actress are 20 to 35. This are common in hollywood,bollywood & european movie industries.

      1. aaron kwok only became a credential actor at the age of 40 when he won golden horse.

      2. donnie yen only reach commercial success at the age of 45 with the movie ip man

      3. What about Kai Ko who reach international success together with Michelle Chen at the age of 19 with Apple of My Eyes? TW industry has it better.

      4. The same principle still stands, however. In order for actors to be in their prime (“golden period”) at a later age, they should ideally have a lot of experience during their younger years. Right now, the current hot actors may all fall within ages 35-55, but if no younger actors are nurtured, then in the future, there will be very few good and marketable actors, regardless of age. You can’t just wait for all possible actors to turn 35 and then pluck them out of obscurity and pray for a good box office return.

      5. Kai ko has the potential but michelle chen is turning 31 next year.

        My best bet for young rising hk & taiwan male actors will be
        1)eddie peng
        2)mark zhao
        3)shawn yue
        4)kenneth ma
        5)nicholas tse
        6)bosco wong
        7)vic zhou
        8)raymond lam
        9)ron ng
        10)jay chow

  2. It’s TVB and HK’s fault. They failed to find a star after Andy Lau and Louis Koo and the youngsters failed to get any connection with good directors. HK music industry fault too for fail to produce any worthy actress since Miriam get married and work less and Sammy Cheng got older and less active. Soon enough we’ll be seeing 40 year old Miriam still searching for true love in a romantic comedy.

      1. I am ringing the Miriam bell because she’s coming back to film, and partly must be because of there is no one HK actress that comes out after Miriam becomes commercial success that the directors and producers needed her back as long as she can.

      2. Yes, I can see that too. After you said this I was trying to think of another popular young actress since Miriam. I don’t know whether the Twins pair counts but yeah, I can’t think of other faces.

        People like Karena Lam and Isabella Leong are very talented, you just don’t see them in a lot of HK movies in the ‘style’ of what Sammi or Miriam will star in.

  3. Again, same case with TVB, HKG movie industry is too coward to cast new blood, only depends to old stars, pathetic!

    1. I know TVB is bad when 30 year olds Tavia and Charmaine are still playing young palace maidens and showing their ages.

  4. I think it’s an issue os supply and demand. Everything costs $$ and who wants to invest in films featuring fresh talents (who may not have gotten their start from TVB or othe local channels) if there is no guaranteed return? I think the health of the film industry can be gauged by whether there is a robust independent film scene (as a way to nurture talent). this article on CNN sums it up:

    1. Agree with you! In addition to an independent film scene, I think a theater scene is just as important. These are arenas where new young artists can hone their acting skills and become more well-rounded actors. Unfortunately, the HK entertainment industry is very much idol driven so there’s no incentive to make such arenas available. Don’t blame the directors for not casting new faces…no one wants to spend millions and put in time and effort on a film just to see it kicked to the curb. Blame it on the idol driven HK society.

      1. I agree with you on the idol driven mentality. I am a little afraid I am going to see the same faces over and over again until the current big actors retire! Like what bbfanny said about Miriam.

        Also, I think one of the reasons why the South Korean film industry is getting so popular is because the government actually limits the number of foreign films into the country as a way to encourage the development of the local film industry (they’ve had the policy since the 1960s, but recently changed it due to free trade agreements with the U.S. — Hollywood making noise). I think the HK govt can do something similar. but the politics of doing that, esp with China and the lure of the market there, will be very difficult. It seems like mainstream HK films are now made based on whether it can sell in China or has potential cross over appeal in Western markets. A little sad, in my opinion.

  5. The problem is not a lack of successors. It is the producers, directors, critics, the powers that be and the fans themselves being closed minded an not giving the rising young talent a chance.

    Say what you may about Hollywood, the give their young upcoming males and females actresses, actors singers producers, screenwriters, designers and everyone in between a chance to grow and develop in their chosen field. Hong Kong and Asian folks in general do not do that. They are so closed minded to anything or anyone new that they are stuck with the “we want Andy, Aaron, Tony, Sean, Nick” stuck record.

    Of course with such wayward, selfish and backward thinking, the poor newbies will never get a chance, or much of a chance to show their worth. Some of these high in demand veterans are nothing but mediocre cheeseburger talent.

    Hollywood will keep pumping out talented artistes that people enjoy seeing and listening to. They will always continue to be at the top of the entertainment industry chain. Hong Kong and it’s backyard people can learn a thing or two from the West, in terms of entertainment, instead of criticizing and trying to play holier than thou over America.

    1. Crazy. Hollywood how big? Hong Kong how big? You compare earth and sun? You have so much hate for Hk and Andy Lau you need help. I know you are same person that hates Andy Lau in every forum I go. Hk so closed mind why Hollywood film make money and popular? Japanese and Korean film popular and make $$$$$ too. Where closed mind? Crazy think think before speak lar. No sense.

      1. No , you think before you speak. WHF???. I am same person who hates Andy Lau at other forums. I have news for you. I do not visits other forums. lease do not get a hernia because other people dislike our Andy Lau. Keep telling yourself that I am the only human who dislikes Andy. You need all the help baby girl, not me.

      2. @ting. Why fly off the handle about andy lau. I did not attack him, this article is not exclusively about him. Why bring him up without reason Why you ranting and behaving so angry at me?. Seek help child, seek help. I find you so comical an amusing. LOL

      3. Simple because you just have soooooooo much hate for Andy Lau. It seen all over this board. If you not same person you need to attack as my bulldog?

        You got no sense and you just attack? Compare Hollywood with hong kong is you. You start but got no sense and no point so you hide behind all the attack? My name is ling not ting, doctor need eyes check. I scare for your ‘patients’ lar.

    2. Did you happen to miss the whole HKTV saga? HK citizens DO want change, they DO want new talent. If they were as closed minded as you claimed they are, they would be happy with what TVB is spitting out and their ratings would be sky rocketed. They would be happy with the movies playing at theaters and the box office would be going through the roof.

  6. if what you said is right,and hk ppl are close minded, how do you declare the fact that in the 80’s and 90’s in hk so many talented young actors,singers,screenwriters,etc could grow and develop to the top?

  7. Yeah, and the powers that be and the fans are stuck in that era. They are not giving the youngsters a fair chance. It is true, they have closed off their minds to the idea of giving new life to the industry through these newcomers. Some of these newcomers are talented, and are easy on the eyes too.

    Hey, these same 80s and 90s idols are the same ones who the powers that be and everyone still want. You have any more questions fuh moi????????????

    1. i dont agree that hk ppl are closed may be right that some talented ppl are not given the chance to develop due to the power that be,but in my opinion the main reason is that if there are someone in hk who have the talent such as michael jackson, then even the power that be cant prevent this talent to reach the top.

      1. @Kolo, you above comment holds no water. Stop comparing Hong Kong with Hollywood. It is comparing champagne with cheap wine, with Hollywood being the campagne

  8. Lack of actors, yes since it is a small industry so to speak but HK cinema’s major problem is lack of good script/story/director. Same genre all the time.

    1. agree,look at those recycled tvb storylines and script,the pirated series from the koreans and japanese,and you can see how little creative brains we have.and tvb is an indication of the well being of the whole entertainmenment industry in hk,since the majority of the stars and directors have started their career at tvb.

  9. @fling. I do not care what your face is. You talk about sense. Others challenged and disagreed with what I said. They did not attack me for no reason. I did not attack or spread hate about andy in this thread. You are the one who attacked like a ferocious bulldog. Who is the bulldog now?, lol. You need to stop kissing andy’s butt, stop trying to see others through your miserable, angry backward life. Sense?, the only thing you know about that word is how to spell it, and judging from your poor English, someone had to spell sense for you, lol. lol.

  10. One more thing to tell you @Ding dong. top recycling your names. You are a coward, changing your name to continue your hateful attacks and show us your ignorance. ar. I know who you are, Shammu . Go beach yourself.

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