Hong Kong companies not limited, help fuel growth

BEIJING — China’s top helmers are all in production during what is rapidly becoming a mini-boom in mainland pics, as an easing of censorship rules and an influx of Hong Kong coin kickstarts the biz in the world’s most populous nation.

The country’s most successful helmer, Zhang Yimou, is in post-production on his latest offering, “The House of Flying Daggers,” with pic slated for a July release.

Film features major names in Chinese cinema, including Hong Kong star Andy Lau, Taiwan’s Jin Chengwu and homegrown star Zhang Ziyi. Pic is a Hong Kong co-production, says Beijing New Pictures Film Co.’s Qin Lixin.

“Investment in the movie sector is very risky, but with ties between the film industries of the mainland and Hong Kong getting closer, I hope the situation will change gradually,” Qin says.

Under a deal made late last year related to Hong Kong’s special status within China since the handover from Britain in 1997, Hong Kong companies’ Chinese-language movies are no longer subject to the 20 pics-per-year quota limiting the number of “foreign” films distributed in China.

While direct foreign investment in film production is still a no-no, Chinese companies are opting to cooperate with Hong Kong producers or presell their projects to foreign companies.

Helmer Chen Kaige, whose 1993 “Farewell My Concubine” was one of the biggest Chinese pics of the last decade, is filming an historical epic with martial arts elements called “The Promise.”

Shot in eastern China, it features Cecilia Cheung, China’s Liu Ye, South Korea’s Jang Dong-Kun and Japan’s Hiroyuki Sanada.

Also onboard are Oscar winning cinematographer Peter Pau (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), action director Dion Lam (of the “Matrix” sequels and “Spider-Man 2″) and Japanese manga artist Masago Kimiya as costume designer.

Wang Jinli from Century Hero Film Investment Co. expects pic to finish in August for release next year. Century Hero was the main investor, but the pic also drew international capital from the U.S. and Japan.

There’s also terrific buzz around town about “Peacock,” directed by Zhang Yimou’s cinematographer, Gu Changwei. The film is a family history, mostly featuring unknowns, but local journalists who’ve seen rushes are spreading good buzz.

“Several big international companies are watching China’s movie market like a tiger eyeing its prey — Columbia, Paramount and Miramax are all trying to invest in China,” says Wang.

Another big factor behind the boom is a relaxation of censorship rules. Filmmakers no longer have to wait for script approval by the censors but instead can submit an outline which is dealt with much more quicker.

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