Local fails to copy success

Ambrose Aw

WHILE the West turned to D & C or Marvel Comics for film inspiration, Hong Kong film-makers have - since the early 90s - preferred to look to the Land Of the Rising Sun for their comic book heroes, possibly because they made for more realistic casting.

Street Fighter was one of the bigger-budget comic book adaptations, based on the cult comic and video game that swept Japan in the late 80s. With a stellar line-up that included three Canto-pop kings (Andy Lau Tak-wah, Jacky Cheung Hok-yau and Aaron Kwok Fu-shing), the film did not come cheap.

Even kung fu superstar Jackie Chan was not able to resist the temptation of being the lusty, woman-crazy City Hunter, which also starred Joey Wang and Chingmy Yau Suk-ching, while Stephen Chiau Sing-chi was persuaded to play the King Of Destroy.

But film adaptations of such comic book heroes never quite took off, unlike their Western counterparts such as Batman and Superman. Unsatisfactory box-office returns had been a great discouraging factor.

In hindsight, director Andy Chin Wing-keung said their failure could be attributed to a lack of understanding of the local taste.

'While it was true that those comic books were very popular in Hong Kong, it did not imply that these stories and characters could attract the audience into the cinemas,' he said.

'And, although some stories might have been attractive, we could not capture the essence of the original story due to our production scale and resources.

'For Hollywood film-makers, they can spend as much as they can because the investors believe that they can make back their money with international market support, but local productions are usually restricted to the markets in Hong Kong and several Southeast Asian countries,' Chin said.

According to the director, among all those comic-turned-movie productions, (including two which Chin directed), there was only one he thought was 'satisfactory'.

'Actually I thought 92 Rose Noire was the only one that managed to maintain some of the spirit of the original comic. The rest, and that includes my productions, were not good enough.' Chin said that even though comic books would continue to be popular in Hong Kong, he did not think local film producers would continue to use those characters in their film productions.

'Comic books nowadays are very different from those in the past. Readers buy them not only for leisure. Indeed, I find some comic books are very informative and down to earth. They are very worth reading,' he added.

'Still, I don't think Hong Kong directors will take the risk. The market is deteriorating and most cinema-goers prefer to buy tickets for international productions rather than local ones. That really weakens the confidence of local film-makers to try new things.'