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Is film on robot’s existential quest enough to convince people to part with HK$8 million?

Directors hope to challenge audience to think about life and what it means to be free

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 April, 2018, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 April, 2018, 8:40pm

Two local directors and a comic book artist hope their latest project, a Hong Kong-inspired science-fiction film, will challenge and inspire their audience in equal measure.

Dragon’s Delusion, an animated movie, will tackle themes of immortality, relationships between humans and machines, as well as the question of free will, in a similar way to sci-fi classics such as Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell.

Planned for release in 2020, directors Lee Kwok-wai and Tsui Ka-hei are seeking to raise HK$8 million (US$1 million) to fund a project they hope will make a statement.

The pair are working on the unconventional film alongside comic book artist Kong Kee, who will be tasked with bringing the nostalgic looks of the old city, the weathered tenement buildings, boxy trams and vivid neon signs to life.

Kong said the story will follow Mr D, a robot that carries the memory of Qu Yuan, a Chinese poet who’s death is memorialised by the Dragon Boat festival.

“Mr D is asking a question – ‘do I have a soul?’, and the story develops from there,” Kong said, adding the character’s journey would make the audience reconsider what it means to be free.

In stark contrast to its enigmatic themes, the ambitious project has a very clear goal of securing the money it needs via crowdfunding website Kickstarter.

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Since launching on March 29 the project has raised more than HK$663,000, and attracted some 550 backers from all over the world, with two people willing to pay HK$75,000, something Kong called “unexpected”.

Before Dragon’s Delusion, Kong’s work caught international attention after he collaborated with Britpop giants Blur in producing a limited edition comic book in 2015.

Kong, who is in charge of the animation project’s overall art style and character design, said the team took heavy references from the city’s unique architecture and culture.

“Hong Kong has the ability to put mismatched things together, like the menu of a cha chaan teng,” he said.

One of the visual concepts depicts a train travelling on an overpass, cutting through high mountains, and skyscrapers with brightly lit signs on their rooftops, echoing the view of the city at night.

Initial funding has guaranteed that the first two chapters of the eight-chapter film can be made, but, Kong said they would finish the 80-minute production even if they failed to reach their HK$8 million goal.

I want the first reactions to be from a Hong Kong audience
Director Lee Kwok-wai

Asked if they were worried that an unconventional theme and story may scare potential backers away, Lee said he wanted to challenge the audience.

“We are used to accommodating the audience, but viewed from another angle, you’re thinking too little of them,” Lee said.

Whilst creators may sometimes think the audience lacks the knowledge or patience to understand nuanced works, Lee assured that it was not always the case.

“We might give them something that is easy to digest, but actually, I think the audience have always wanted something more – in terms of creativity,” he said, adding the number of backers proved his theory.

Kong also has his own ambition.

“I want to use the project to make a statement, that style is also a commercial element, it is important to selling a product,” he said.

Aside from securing the capital to produce the film, Lee said the team would use the money to employ more animation talents in Hong Kong.

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The aim was to enlarge the team from the size of a dozen people to about 50, he said.

While the crowdfunding campaign for Dragon’s Delusion is set to end on May 13, the first chapters of animation project are to be released to its backers in autumn next year.

Highlighting its “made in Hong Kong” nature, the film’s premiere will take place in the city sometime in 2020.

“The story is in part, my emotional feedback to Hong Kong, and I want the first reactions to be coming from a Hong Kong audience,” Lee said.