Relaxation of film rules may be a screen saver

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 October, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 October, 2003, 12:00am

Infernal Affairs needed a different ending in which the bad guy no longer triumphs, the vampire theme is being ditched for the sequel to Twins Effect and the producers of the risque comedy Ho Qing are preparing a separate version with less nudity. The impact of censorship on the Hong Kong film industry's bid to break into the rapidly developing mainland market is all too evident.

The news this weekend that mainland officials are considering a relaxation of restrictions and planning the introduction of a new film classification system is therefore to be welcomed. It is not yet known how far the measures will go. Many themes are currently considered taboo: ghosts, extra-marital affairs, and homosexuality, among others. But there is optimism within the local industry that the new classification system in particular will provide greater flexibility and give Hong Kong films more access to the mainland's cinemas.

These issues were among those discussed during meetings between a delegation of 80 industry players and mainland officials last week. The Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement signed between Hong Kong and the mainland includes provisions intended to help our city's movies gain more of a foothold across the border. Local films will now be excluded from the quota system which has restricted the number of foreign productions screened on the mainland to only 20 a year. Hong Kong-mainland co-productions are to be treated as mainland movies, and restrictions on the number of local crew members working on the mainland will be relaxed. How significant these measures prove to be, remains to be seen. The delegation was hoping Hong Kong companies would also be permitted to distribute films on the mainland directly, but this seems unlikely in the short term because of concerns about such a move hitting jobs on the other side of the border. Piracy is another major concern.

The long-established Hong Kong industry, however, is now in need of the mainland. The local market is shrinking, and in recent years box-office takings have plunged. Blockbusters such as Infernal Affairs have helped, and this summer's takings were promising. But the future lies in films aimed at the international - and mainland - markets.

The mainland, meanwhile, is enjoying what has been described as a 'gold rush' in the movie world. Production costs are low and the beautiful scenery can provide the perfect backdrop. State of the art cinemas are springing up and the audience is becoming more sophisticated. The potential for cross-border co-operation is great, with Hong Kong in a prime position to market mainland and cross-border productions overseas.

The future for the Chinese-language industry could, therefore, be bright. A relaxing of restrictions will help it on its way.