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Mainland offers Hong Kong’s film industry a chance for a brighter future

The golden age of the city’s movie-making is now a distant memory. But the strength of the industry on the mainland offers Hong Kong opportunities it must grasp if there is any chance of a resurgence

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 March, 2018, 4:16am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 March, 2018, 4:17am

The Hong Kong International Film Festival begins this week, featuring more than 230 films from 60 countries, a draw for the city’s movie buffs. But it comes when Hong Kong’s own film industry, known in its heyday as the Hollywood of the Far East, faces challenging times.

A prolonged decline from the early 1990s has made the golden age of Hong Kong cinema a distant memory. It has gone from producing 400 films a year to about 60 in more recent times.

The glory days when Hong Kong films and their local stars featured prominently at the world’s top festivals are no more. Meanwhile, the mainland movie industry is booming.

Various factors have contributed to the decline. There are fewer cinemas in Hong Kong than in the early 1990s. The tastes of cinema-goers have changed, with home-grown movies being overshadowed by more popular Hollywood blockbusters. The widespread availability of pirated versions of films has also had an impact.

To make the grade in China, Hong Kong’s filmmakers go back to school

The rapid rise of the mainland’s film industry, with spectacular growth in box office receipts, has seen Hong Kong talent head across the border. The strength of the industry on the mainland, however, offers the city’s film industry opportunities it must grasp.

These will be discussed next week at the Hong Kong International Film and TV Market, organised by the Trade Development Council.

Meanwhile, action superstar Jackie Chan, and other prominent figures in the Hong Kong industry, are seeking to persuade the central government to give the city’s talent greater access to the mainland market.

The Closer Economic Partnership Agreement, a deal struck between Hong Kong and the central government in 2003, allowed for cross-border co-productions to be distributed as domestic movies on the mainland.

Hong Kong moviemakers have taken advantage of this agreement and more than half of the films made locally in 2016 were co-productions. Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid was a notable success.

But a rule which requires at least a third of leading artists in such productions to be from the mainland has limited opportunities for talent from Hong Kong.

It’s fade out for Hong Kong’s film industry as China moves into the spotlight

Chan is seeking to have this restriction lifted. Removing the rule now would provide a bigger platform for our emerging stars, without hurting the mainland’s industry.

But if the Hong Kong movie scene is to see a resurgence, much more is needed. Hong Kong needs to learn how to succeed on the mainland and to understand that the requirements and the tastes of movie-goers are different to those in this city.

There must still be a place for films with a strong local identity. But the glory days are not likely to return. Hong Kong still has the potential to make great films.

If it can make the most of opportunities the mainland offers, while maintaining its separate identity, the city’s industry still has a future.