Hong Kong encouraged to stay the star of its movies
Local directors urged not to ignore city's own culture in the face of increasing mainland influence, and two new releases heed the call
An accentuated "Hongkongness" in recent local films has caught the attention of international movie circles, where there has been concern the city is in fear of losing its own culture in the face of increasing mainland influence.
Fruit Chan's The Midnight After and Pang Ho-cheung's Aberdeen - both of which opened the Hong Kong International Film Festival last night - are among the latest examples.
"There has been a worry that Hong Kong culture and [the Cantonese] language will disappear," as reflected in recent Hong Kong films, said Sabrina Baracetti, president of the Udine Far East Film Festival, which specialises in showing Asian works in Udine, Italy.
While films such as Ip Man - The Final Fight, which screened at the festival last year, displayed a nostalgic portrait of old Hong Kong, The Midnight After and Golden Chicken SSS, to screen at the event next month, showed a more evident Hong Kong flavour, Baracetti said.
Golden Chicken SSS is a comedy revolving around the life of a prostitute played by Sandra Ng Kwan-yu. The Midnight After, which was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival, is a thriller about a group of minibus passengers who find themselves in a deserted Sha Tin after passing through the Lion Rock tunnel - reflecting worries that a Hong Kong which people once knew would one day vanish.
Baracetti recalled that when the festival began in 1999 - two years after Hong Kong's handover to China - films such as Chan's debut Made in Hong Kong (1997) carried a darker, pessimistic tone.
She saw that as indicating the anxiety of the former British colony over its unknown fate.
The concept of "expiry dates" ran through notable films in the 1990s, such as Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express. "In the middle of the 2000s, no one talked about this any more," Baracetti said. "But now the topic is back."
She said the thriving mainland Chinese market - the world's second-largest film market after the United States - might quicken the demise of Hong Kong cinema as local filmmakers made more movies across the border.
Having to satisfy cultural differences and censorship on the mainland meant those directors did not enjoy as much freedom as before. "We are worried that Hong Kong cinema will lose to the mainland market as it continues to open up."
The Chinese title of Aberdeen literally means "little Hong Kong" or "Hong Kong boy", besides referring to the district in the southern part of Hong Kong Island.
Pang said the film dealt with pressures facing Hongkongers, presented in fantasy images - such as actress Miriam Yeung in a paper taxi made for the dead.
He urged filmmakers not to give up local stories.
"Many wrongly believe that giving up local content can open up a global market. But what audiences want are local characteristics presented in a story they can understand," Pang said.
Aberdeen will open in Hong Kong and around the world in May. The Hong Kong International Film Festival runs until April 7.