The COVID-19 pandemic has made the already cold Hong Kong film industry even colder. For nearly twenty years, HK movies were the fire of Asian cinema, dominating the eastern sphere. HK films pioneered Chinese cinema, and the Chinese diaspora carried these films wherever they went. There wasn’t a single country in the world where they weren’t exposed to HK’s legacy.
But the HK film industry—overwhelmed by its much larger Asian neighbors—has been on a downward spiral since the late 90’s. HK films are no longer as influential as they were thirty years ago. Some even say that HK films have already completed its mission, and has passed down the baton to their neighbors.
Hong Kong’s four great filmmakers—Derek Yee (爾冬陞), Henry Fong (方平), Ronald Wong (黃斌), and Cheang Pou-soi (鄭保瑞) all came together to discuss about the future of Hong Kong’s film industry. From the problems the industry are facing today, to the possibility of having a great revival, here are their thoughts.
The HK People Can No Longer Relate to Their Films
The failure of catching up to the times, the “ingenuity” of its stories, the shrinking of its market, and the lack of relatability in co-produced films have led many to claim that HK films are already dead. Over the past decade, more and more HK films have become co-productions with other industries, specifically with the much larger mainland Chinese film market.
“Hong Kong viewers aren’t exactly satisfied with co-produced films [with China],” said Derek Yee (The Shinjuku Incident, The Great Magician). “A lot of these films are tied by regulations. You can’t do movies that are about triads, that are violent, or too erotic. That’s why, eventually, these co-produced films drove Hong Kong viewers further and further away from them. At this rate, you basically can’t turn back.”
In a previous interview, Cheang Pou-soi (The Monkey King, SPL 2) said that Hong Kong films were the first to give up on their audiences. Yee agreed with his statement. “It’s true. When we made these films, we didn’t consider the Hong Kong viewers. That’s why they’ve given up on us. We also have so many options to choose from. We’re not limited to consuming just one market. Take Korean films for example. They’re very versatile. Even films in Japan and Taiwan have looser restrictions.”
The HK industry’s biggest flaw is its failure to capture the interest of its main market. HK people stopped consuming their films because they did not find them worthy to watch anymore. Because of this, many film investors have started to look elsewhere, specifically the much larger mainland market. This has, overtime, pushed back the HK film industry even further.
Can Pure HK Films Still Survive?
But if Hong Kongers don’t enjoy co-productions, would they be interested in watching a pure local film again? Will the HK industry be revived with more local productions?
“Let’s not talk about the mainland and Taiwan,” said Henry Fong (Forsaken Cop). “Because they are now in a more advanced position. Our films used to be very popular in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, England, the Netherlands, and North America. If we just work on doing local films, would we be able to survive?”
Yee did not have a very optimistic answer. “If I was the investor? If you give me 1 million Hong Kong dollars to do a movie that won’t be sold overseas, then you are crazy. With that HK$1 million, HK$300,000 of that would go into marketing, and then you’ll be left with nothing to use. By then, you’ll have to ask the media to help out.”
He added another example: “Let’s say the movie’s budget is HK$1.3 million. To earn a profit, that film would have to gross as least three times its budget, equating to HK$3.9 million. Including marketing, office rentals, and other admin fees, that just wouldn’t be enough. You’re still losing money.”
The lack of funds, the small market, and the lack of interest among the HK public to support local films have been pushing the industry to a dead end for years, long before the current pandemic.
Movies are a form of commercial art. To make a good film requires a decent amount of funding and creativity. “Take going to a restaurant for example,” said Fong. “Usually you eat first before you pay, but when you’re making a movie, you’re paying first before you eat. You don’t even know what you’re going to eat yet. It’s a huge gamble.”
Derek Yee Tells Louis Koo: “Watch Out for Your Wallet”
A few years ago, just as the industry was in deep discussions about its dire condition, Louis Koo (古天樂) splurged out the money to create his own film production studio in hopes to revive the HK film industry. Yee found his attempts to be bittersweet.
“I told him to watch out for his wallet,” said Yee. “But he’s saved a lot of money, and I am not the person to hold back someone who is so hot-blooded and passionate for the industry. All I can do is offer him my care.”
Actor-producer Ronald Wong said, “He is worthy to support.” Yee added, “I believe in karma. A good heart will be rewarded.”
Will There Be More Cop Films in the Future?
The Hong Kong action and crime genre was what made HK films known in the world. However, recent political and societal struggles have made the topic sensitive.
“It’s hard to say what will happen,” said Yee. “This is still ongoing, and hasn’t quite made history yet.”
In 2004’s One Nite in Mongkok <旺角黑夜> directed by Yee, there was a scene featuring a cop beating up a person. In the 2007 film Protégé <門徒>, Daniel Wu (吳彥祖) was brutally attacked by customs officers after he was arrested. How would these scenes carry over if they had occurred in films made today?
While these questions are difficult to answer, they are important to consider. Though the crime genre is very sensitive to pursue during this time, Cheang said the Hong Kong people are exceptionally well at adapting. It is not in their nature to keep silent, and he believes that filmmakers and other artistes will come up with their own creative ways to share their vision.
This article is written by Addy for JayneStars.com.