I SEE THAT the local film industry is to get yet another boost from public funds, a HK$50 million trove in the form of bank guarantees with previous limits on production budgets waived. There are many things to say about this. I could point out for, instance, that if you ask people on the street which of our industries is the mostly heavily infested by the underworld you would get a landslide vote for film, greater even than gambling. More money for the triads to extort, yes, what a marvellous idea. I could mention that the film industry has already caused us to be saddled with ridiculous parallel import prohibitions, all to help local film-makers keep out of the local market the very distribution agents that they themselves have appointed in the mainland. We threw the baby out with the bathwater on that one. It now restricts our choice on any imported consumer product we buy. I could remind you that when the film industry has a big hit it feels no obligation to share its winnings with the rest of us but when things are down it has no compunction about sticking its hands out for public money. And I could tell you that things are not really that down for the film industry just now. Box office takings are down for the past 10 years but they have been up in the past three, much more than consumer spending on other things. Let us go at it from a different angle, however. The idea with these latest hand-outs is to direct them only to experienced film-makers and only for quality productions, none of those ghost and fight movies, just the real Category III quality stuff. Oops, did I say quality was Cat III? I cannot imagine what would make me think that. Somewhere in the distance I now hear a little reminder bell tinkling away. What other country comes to mind in government funding of 'quality' films to draw cinema audiences back from American productions, one that has been doing it for years upon years only to see its goal recede ever further? Ah yes, I have it, France. A few weeks ago I went to see one of these quality French productions, Huit Femmes (Eight Women), a showcase of French acting talent, showcase as in the glass box kind you find in a museum, which is where I think they went for six of those eight. Reminders of a distant past they were. They were also still so up themselves that the only man among them must have been even lonelier on the set than he was in the script (in which, understandably, he committed suicide by the way). Each got her own weepy speech plus a song and dance number; music to wash cars by, set to the creak of aged hips. It was all very avant-garde too - rape, child molestation, desertion, incest, the awakening of lesbian love, just count 'em - all within an Agatha Christie-style plot of the sort you want when you have missed your flight and go to the airport bookshop for something to help you forget the next three hours in the departure lounge; a call on your intellect that the popcorn in your fist could handle. And it got the audience it deserved. I do not think there were even 10 people in that cinema aside from my wife and myself. Back to Arnie next time. In monologue I prefer his sort when he shoots the crocodile - 'You're luggage' - or hooks the baddy on the fins of an air-to-air missile before pressing the button - 'You're fired'. And I am sure that this is exactly how the cinema audiences of Hong Kong see it too. Successful film-makers give people the films they want to see. If it happens to be lowbrow stuff, well, so is day-to-day life and if it happens to be violent, well, it is just a fact of life that testosterone demands vicarious thrills when life is humdrum. Who can truthfully claim higher authority to tell us what we ought to see? But you have that sort of decision made with your money when the government gets busy in the film industry. The result is almost always the same, great praise from the critics, lots of foreign awards, and empty cinemas. Somehow it seems to sap the energy of film-makers who must make their living from the box office. Their costs go up, the new talent is drained away to the government-funded productions and slowly they wither away. Hollywood is the winner every time. This latest fund is a poisoned chalice for our film industry. I know that the industry does not see it that way. Poisoned chalices are always alluring and hide their real contents, but the results of drinking from them are always the same.