A FORTNIGHT AGO, a petite wooden sculpture was put on display at Government House; a thoughtfully designed replica of a film camera, quietly adorning a tray of mini-cakes set out to serve scores of stars from the world of Hong Kong film. Celebrity guests such as Chow Yun-fat and Tony Leung Chiu-wai may have been impressed by the attention to detail. The Government had spent $150,000 on a cocktail party staged to show its commitment to the film industry. Indeed, some film-industry insiders attending the official event - held under the banner of 'paying tribute to the achievements of local film workers' - were delighted that the SAR's administration had made an effort to recognise their work. At the opening of a souvenir presentation ceremony held during the reception, Ng See-yuen, permanent honorary secretary of the Hong Kong Film Directors' Guild, said: 'As far as I know, this function is the first of its kind hosted by the Government to honour our achievements, which goes to show how serious it is taking the film industry.' Ng's views were echoed by Chow: 'Of course I have confidence in the future of the industry. They [officials] have helped us a lot.' Tim Yip Kam-tim, Oscar-winning art director from Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, said of party host Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa: 'I can tell he is very supportive of the industry, he is eager to listen to our views and advice.' Evidence of the authority's commitment was Tung's pledge in his three-minute speech: 'The film industry is not only an important part of our economy, it is part of our culture, it is part of Hong Kong . . . In the coming months, we are going to have talks with the industry to discuss the ways to create a better environment for film-making.' Theoretically, though, a better environment is already in place. A $100 million Film Development Fund was set up in 1999 to sponsor film projects. This January, the Hong Kong Film Archive was opened to preserve the SAR's precious movie collection. And last month, the Film Services Office issued guidelines on outdoor shoots which involve street closure in a bid to ease the paper work involved in gaining permission to do so. The once-moribund film industry is showing signs of recovery after nearly a decade in the doldrums. The number of feature films made annually had peaked at 247 in 1990 but by 1998 the figure had plummeted to just 92. In the past two years, there have been 146 and then 150 films produced. There's been good news on the box office front, too. In 2000, local films dragged in $383 million - the first time there had been an annual increase since the dizzy heights of 1992, when local films brought home $1.24 billion. But behind this rosy picture, some industry insiders are calling for more government support and action to kick-start an industry once crowned as the 'Eastern Hollywood'. Actor Anthony Wong Chau-sang, also at the cocktail party, launched a scathing attack on what he saw. 'There was never any celebration until Oscar awards were won [for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon], ' he said. 'If you want to help us, talk to us and closely follow what we really want. A superficial party is never enough.' Actor-writer-director Alfred Cheung Kin-ting even went so far as to call for a boycott of the party as it was originally designed to honour only film-workers' post-handover accomplishments. His actions successfully led to a change of the theme into that of a more general celebration. Director Tsui Hark wasn't quite as forthright, but had similar feelings. 'If you look at this official function, it should have happened ages ago, before the Oscar wins. But it's not too late now. It marks a good start, but there's more to be done.' The key to a bright future largely lies with money - or lack of it. 'I am not saying the Government should invest in local films at the expense of taxpayers,' said Cheung. 'Rather, assistance should come in the form of subsidies, low-interest loans or a tax rebate as they have in some Western countries so that we can equip ourselves with better hardware for quality post-production.' Film-workers also have their responsibility to fulfil, he believes. 'We should produce more movies targeting locals as well as the international audience, movies that are characterised by a mixture of local and foreign elements,' Cheung said. But will officials take heed of film-makers' myriad demands? 'I think the high-ranking officials are showing zeal in offering help while an apathetic attitude still pervades among those on the lower rank,' said Cheung. Commissioner of Television and Entertainment Licensing Eddy Chan Yuk-tak said the Government was unable to meet all the demands of the industry. 'Our role is that of a middleman who studies the problems faced by film-workers and looks at how to make things easier for them,' he said. 'But we won't offer any direct financial assistance such as tax rebate or subsidy. It's against the laissez faire policy.' So while there still appears to be some distance between what the local industry wants and what it is getting, at least the cameras are rolling.