HK film-makers choose between money and heart

ARTISTIC INTEGRITY: Film-makers like Yip, whose debut romcom is privately funded, prefer to work with limited resources but keep a local focus. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


    Jul 11, 2016

    HK film-makers choose between money and heart


    SHOOT the film you have always wanted on a shoestring budget or sell out and make a blockbuster?

    It is a dilemma Hong Kong directors face as mainland China's lucrative movie industry beckons.

    Now, with concerns growing about Beijing's increasing influence on Hong Kong, some film-makers are defying commercial and political pressures to produce movies with a local voice - and inject new life into the city's cinema scene.

    Hong Kong once pumped out at least 200 films a year, from Bruce Lee's 1973 Enter The Dragon to Wong Kar-wai's In The Mood For Love in 2000, via countless cop and gangster thrillers.

    But there has been a slump in the past decade and just dozens of films are now made in Hong Kong annually.

    One major factor is the booming Chinese movie sector, offering both experienced directors and recent graduates more money and opportunities.

    Yet, for some, the pendulum now seems to be swinging back as the desire for freedom of expression outweighs mainland mega-bucks.

    "With new films, everyone asks: 'Could it be released in China? Can you cooperate with the Chinese side?' That's how (investors) earn back their money," said Hong Kong director Derek Chiu, 54.

    He has struggled to find backers for his upcoming drama Chung Ying Street, which focuses on riots against British colonial rule before leaping to the present-day protest movement.

    Some Hong Kong directors have turned to crowdfunding to raise cash but maintain their independence.

    Celebrated cinematographer Christopher Doyle, a long-term Hong Kong resident best known for his work with director Wong, used the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform for his recent politically sensitive project, raising more than US$100,000 (S$134,500).

    Hong Kong Trilogy: Preschooled, Preoccupied, Preposterous, released last year, is based on interviews with three generations of Hong Kong residents. One section is dedicated to mass pro-democracy protests that brought parts of the city to a standstill in 2014.

    Despite the new energy in the Hong Kong industry, some say the city's cinematic glory will be hard to recapture with an ascendant China and growing global competition.

    "When big names were discovered in the 1980s, the market... (was) less crowded," said Nansun Shi, a veteran Hong Kong producer who oversaw the 2002 hit thriller Infernal Affairs and has served on the jury of the Cannes film festival.

    Still, film-makers feel that keeping a local focus is a better way to engage their audience.

    "I'd rather work with limited resources on something I know about," said recent graduate Crosby Yip, 24, on the set of his privately funded debut romcom, Diary Of First Love.

    "If I make films about the place I grew up in, I think the feeling will be more solid and realistic," he added.