Film studies: Animation on show
Talk to an ordinary cinema-goer about animation and you'd expect a discussion about Hollywood giants like the Shrek series, or Japanese characters such as Doraemon and Keroro - sure-fire hits that mean box-office gold to local distributors.
But for anime aficionados who want something different, Freddie Wong Kwok-shiu is offering a fistful of pleasant surprises at the Hong Kong International Animation Film Festival (HKIAFF).
'What are most popular now are animation films based on popular comics from America and Japan,' says Wong. 'But there are plenty of other great animation films being made around the world, including some - like the futuristic Korean satire Aachi & Ssipak, in this year's festival - that are actually large-scale productions. I want the festival to bring a whole range of animation films to the local audiences.'
Proof of the festival's diversity is best illustrated by comparing the two French films in this year's programme: Renaissance (right), a dark vision of an authoritarian future; and the family film U. The opening film, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, based on a popular Japanese novel, was an award winner at the Waterloo Festival for Animation Cinema 2006 and the Italy Future Film festival 2007.
There are also two Singaporean entries, which Wong - the first director of the Broadway Cinema-theque and a former curator of the Hong Kong International Film Festival - says he chose not so much for their technological finesse as their views of a culture that's different from the American mainstream. 'Their quality may not match US standards, but Singapore has just started to develop the technology for producing animation,' he says. 'I hope the festival will be a platform that offers animation fans more choices.'
Wong says the festival - which began last year as a spin-off from Hong Kong's vast annual comics fair Ani-com - stands to lose money even if all screenings are full. 'We're not doing this for the money. And in reality the festival may have only a small impact on promoting comics and animation. Like flowers and leaves, comics and animation films can act as supplements to each other.'
The festival will hopefully boost the local animation film scene. 'It's not easy to produce good animation in Hong Kong, because the infrastructure, and in particular the skilled people, aren't here,' Wong says. 'It's not like comics, and most producers aren't wiling to invest until the mainland market is more responsive to this type of medium. Even when a comic is popular, most of them would rather make it as a movie than an animation.'
Since 1997, when Tsui Hark produced and directed Hong Kong's first fully computer-animated film - an adaptation of A Chinese Ghost Story - the local film industry has rarely ventured into animation. The only notable exceptions are the two McDull films, based on the lives of Alice Mak Ka-pik's cartoon piglet and his friends. It remains to be seen whether Wong's efforts - and the HKIAFF - will contribute to the birth of a sturdy animation film industry in Hong Kong.
HKIAFF, Sat, Jul 31, Broadway Cinematheque and MCL Kornhill Cinema. For programme details, go to ani-com.hk