It’s our own fault that Hong Kong cinema plays it safe

Hong Kong studios know a James Bond film would sell, so they don’t take risks on what might not

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 November, 2015, 7:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 November, 2015, 8:04pm

The Film Development Council has just announced a new grant scheme to support low-budget projects in the hope of boosting local young filmmakers and the number of productions, which saw a landslide drop since its heyday in the 1990s.

But the effectiveness of this new grant scheme, which offers funding that covers 20 per cent, or up to HK$2 million, is unknown.

The problem with Hong Kong’s film industry, as council chairman Ma Fung-kwok put it, was that investors thought it was risky to put money in low budget projects that could not afford the sort of stellar cast or action sequences that have proved popular at the box office. In other words, investors were afraid to take a risk.

READ MORE: Lights, camera, funding: Hong Kong filmmakers to get up to HK$2m from government for low-budget features

Hollywood also shares a similar problem, take the number of sequels and adaptations from best-selling books and graphic novels, for instance. These safe remakes form a dominant trend. Audiences also have to bear responsibility for the studios’ output, in a way, as they participate in the hype — just look at the building anticipation of the new Star Wars and James Bond films observed on social media.

In the case of Hong Kong, things aren’t much different. While the biopic of wing chun master Ip Man is now in its third instalment, some studios are keen to turn to TV for ideas.

Shaw Brothers Pictures, which is now a subsidiary of broadcasting giant TVB, has made a few films based on popular TVB drama series. For example, 2009 action thriller Turning Point, starring Michael Tse who reprised his role as undercover cop Laughing Gor in popular TV series E.U, grossed a total of HK$15.7 million, putting it in the top 10 of domestic productions by box office success this year.

Lately, China 3D Digital Entertainment, famous for a couple of soft-porn hits, has two new offerings based on popular TV series.

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First is Return of the Cuckoo, which reunites Charmaine Sheh and Cheung Chi-lam, which rekindles the TVB romantic drama of the same name from 15 years ago. The film opened this week.

Another one in the making is the film adaptation of HKTV hit series The Menu. The series tells the stories of the life of journalists and threats to Hong Kong’s media landscape.

Despite being shown on HKTV’s internet platform only the show created a lot of buzz on the internet and made its lead actor Gregory Wong an overnight sensation.

Wong told me that he has been working on the production of the film version of The Menu, and he will be taking up more responsibilities. He said he is involved in the production side of the film as well as acting.

READ MORE: More than just a pretty face: Hong Kong star Gregory Wong says actors must speak up on social issues

These projects might work as audiences know exactly what to expect — familiar storyline and familiar characters. But can audiences tolerate new and experimental ideas? And how much?

While investors might be blamed for not being bold enough to take risks in their investment, we should probably ask why audiences are so limited when it comes to their taste in films. Is it our education, exposure, or our helplessness in changing the city’s future that makes most people want to maintain the status quo? Probably all of the above.