Adam Wong Sau-ping's The Way We Dance and Dante Lam Chiu-yin's Unbeatable have been the surprise box office hits of the summer. The former had already raked in more than double its HK$5.3 million budget by September 19 and Unbeatable passed the HK$40 million mark a few days earlier.
To put the success of Lam's mixed martial arts drama into context, even popular Hong Kong films of the 1980s and '90s, such as John Woo's A Better Tomorrow (1986) and Tsui Hark's Once Upon a Time in China (1991), didn't break the HK$40 million barrier at the local box office. Clearly, more expensive ticket prices have a lot to do with the figures, but given Hong Kong cinema's slump at the end of the 20th century, local productions are now considered a hit if they manage to nudge the HK$10 million mark.
By that reckoning, returns for The Way We Dance are not exactly spectacular, but industry insiders are gratified by its success, especially as Wong's "hip hop meets tai chi" dance drama has no big names in front of the camera, or behind it. Local observers are also pleased because it's a thoroughly Hong Kong film: it was shot on location in the city, and has a predominantly local cast and crew.
Both have fared well with critics as well as audiences, and both have triumphed at film festivals. Unbeatable's Nick Cheung Ka-fai and Crystal Lee Hing-hau came away with the best actor and actress prizes at the Shanghai International Film Festival, and The Way We Dance won the audience award at the recent Focus on Asia: Fukuoka International Film Festival. And it's safe to say they will be adding some Hong Kong Film Awards to that haul next year.
In the meantime, I'm happy to add my voice to those heaping praise on these two efforts - and to express the hope that their success will inspire more local filmmakers to tell a personal story delivered in a local voice.