Poor is May, desperate is June - but resurgence awaits in July.' So goes a phrase commentators have bandied about for years to describe the fortunes of Hong Kong's film industry, referring to the barren patches brought about by the absence of young people at play - May and June are traditionally examination time - which are offset by a sharp increase in business at the box office as the summer holidays begin. Whether the first part of the saying still holds true today is certainly debatable - for the past few years, many mid-budget local productions have cashed in on the absence of blockbusters by timing their debuts for these lean months - but the optimistic second half of the phrase seems out of sync with the Hong Kong film industry this year. The big noise of John Woo Yu-sen's Red Cliff - which opens next week - will be followed by two months of near silence from Hong Kong filmmakers. Apart from Ann Hui On-wah's The Way We Were (which will be on limited release at the Broadway Cinematheque from July 17) and Chan Hing-ka's romantic comedy La Lingeria - bold enough to begin its run in local cinemas on August 8, the opening day of the Olympics - this summer's release schedule is almost devoid of Chinese-language fare. The local film industry is still struggling to regain its footing after years of dwindling business since the economic recession in the late 1990s. It's not as if local film studios can wheel out swathes of blockbusters to cash in on the increase of summer spending as they did in the 1980s and early 90s. Still, in 2005 there were Vincent Kuk Tak-chiu's Dragon Reloaded 2, Tsui Hark's Seven Swords and Derek Yee Tung-shing's Drink, Drank, Drunk; in 2006, the Pang brothers' Re-Cycle, Wilson Yip Wai-shun's Dragon Tiger Gate and Soi Cheang Po-soi's Dog Bite Dog. Yip was here again last year with Flash Point, alongside Benny Chan Muk-sing's Invisible Target, Barbara Wong Chun-chun's Wonder Woman, plus the Putonghua films Secret (the Taiwan-set film directed by Jay Chou Jie-lun) and Blood Brothers (the John Woo-produced directorial debut from Alexi Tan). 'It's not as if we have tried to avoid the Olympics - but the authorities up north did suggest it would be better not to schedule releases during the Games,' says Albert Lee Nga-bok, chief executive of Emperor Motion Pictures. As most Hong Kong productions seek a combined release date on the mainland and in Hong Kong, the reluctance - or deliberate slowdown - of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (Sarft) in issuing screening licences (a prerequisite for releases on the mainland), has forced many local film companies to reschedule their opening dates to the autumn. The way the Beijing Olympics have forced an inadvertent blackout for local films reveals how Hong Kong's film industry's fortunes now remain tied to social circumstances and political whims from far away. It's hard to ignore how the authorities in Beijing wield enormous power over what Hong Kong films audiences here get to see, as the financial backers behind productions such as Sniper and Fantastic Water Babes have found out. Sniper, for example, has been in censorship limbo for more than three months, according to John Chong Ching, chief executive officer of the film's investors Media Asia. While official policy is for the censors to inform a film's producers about the fate of their productions within 20 days, Chong is still waiting to hear from Sarft. 'They said they lack manpower to deal with the applications because of a very congested schedule,' says Chong. It is widely understood, however, that Sniper's problems lie with its leading star Edison Chen Koon-hei, whose involvement in the sex photo scandal has made him persona non grata in the eyes of the mainland's cultural apparatchiks. Chong says he has heard of filmmakers who have not heard back from the censors more than six months after submitting a film for a licence. 'There has been quite a lot of frustration among Hong Kong film companies on this issue,' he says. He adds that the confusion has fuelled uncertainty in an industry which he believes 'has not yet climbed out of its nadir'. Local film-goers hoping for Chinese-language films will be much better served from September. Among the films taking a bow during the autumn are Derek Yee's Shinjuku Incident, starring Jackie Chan, Benny Chan's action thriller Connected, Jacob Cheung Chi-leung's subtle drama Ticket, Alan Mak Siu-fai and Felix Chong Man-keung's comedy Lady Cop and Papa Crook and Chen Kaige's mainland-Hong Kong co-production Mei Lanfang, a biopic of the late master of Peking opera. The abundance of choice does not guarantee a return to normal business, however: the Olympics happen once every four years, but other political and cultural events could come along to upset the release plans of Hong Kong's film companies. 'There's something happening every year on the mainland,' says Emperor's Lee, adding that next year will be the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. 'We can only guess whether [next year] the gatekeepers will arm themselves with another set of considerations when looking at application of screening licences,' he says.