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 JayneStars.com.