BEIJING — The rapid and inevitable integration of Hong Kong’s film biz with the mighty markets of mainland China took on a new dimension last week when a muscular, 60-strong delegation of Hong Kong’s top film-makers visited Beijing to announce a promotion plan and bow a raft of new film projects.
Hollywood is watching how Hong Kong shingles fare in the notoriously knotty Chinese market as it could provide a template for U.S. films to get more traction in the restricted, but potentially hugely lucrative, market in China.
The delegation was led by Hong Kong Film Development Council Chairman Jack So Chak-kwong, and included Peter Lam, senior members of the Hong Kong Film Board and helmers incuding Gordon Chan and Peter Chan.
Among other tasks assigned to the mission, the group was also in Beijing to introduce 13 new Hong Kong helmers and promote Hong Kong’s skill as a post-production center.
It’s getting harder to tell mainland Chinese and Hong Kong movies apart.
Cross-border co-productions between Hong Kong and mainland companies are starting to dominate B.O. on both sides of the increasingly porous border, and China and Hong Kong have had increasingly close relations since Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, as well as with the introduction of trade agreements such as the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, which gives special status to productions from the former Crown colony.
Although Hong Kong movies are usually in Cantonese, which is only spoken in the southern part of China, thesps and helmers have been swift to learn Mandarin and culturally there are more similarities than differences.
Gordon Chan, who will head up the promotion campaign called Hong Kong Film New Action, said the concept of two different film markets would gradually be phased out in favor of a pan-Chinese film market.
“I think the concept of co-production will gradually disappear, because we all do Chinese-language films. Hong Kong directors heading north is not only reasonable, but also the trend of the times,” he said at a news conference.
Jack So Chak-kwong, who is also head of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, said the growing number of co-productions between Hong Kong and the mainland feeds a need for a more diverse market.
“Men Suddenly in Black” helmer Edmond Pang Ho-Cheung introduced two projects for which he is seeking funding on the mainland.
Pang says he is optimistic about the mainland market, since his films “Isabella” and “Beyond Our Ken” had good mainland box office. “In fact, mainland viewers accept new themes more easily than the local audience in Hong Kong,” says Pang.
The plan will include a film development fund to finance small and medium budget films and nurture new talents. The fund will provide around 30% of the funding for projects, which will typically have budgets of less than $1.5 million.
The delegation also wants to help connect new helmers with mainland Chinese investors to secure more funding.
Veteran helmer Ng See-yuen said the Hong Kong delegation felt welcome in China, “The trend of integration is a great thing for creativity and the market.”
Among pics which have already secured mainland coin were Dennis Chan’s “37,” which will start lensing soon with a cast including Charlie Yeung and Lin Miaoke.
At a separate event in Beijing organized by privately owned Chinese media conglom Enlight Media, Gordon Chan said it’s crucial to have closer relations across the border.
“In my opinion, many investors in the mainland do not know directors in Hong Kong, and Hong Kong directors also do not know mainland investors,” said Chan, who has signed up as chief consultant to Enlight.
Recent months have seen a flurry of Hong Kong shingles looking north to fund their future plans. In February, Peter Chan unveiled Cinema Popular, a muscular new shingle formed jointly with influential mainland Chinese group PolyBona and helmer Huang Jiangxin.
At the Hong Kong Film and TV Market (Filmart) in March, some 95% of respondents in a survey of exhibitors said co-productions would continue as a hot trend, and 59% of the respondents said the Chinese mainland would be the market of greatest potential for the overall entertainment industry.
Also this year, Daniel Yu and Tang Xiru set up First Cuts Features, a production company in Beijing to develop and produce six projects by rising Asian filmmakers.