Asian confab buzzes with local momentum, looks ahead to 3D

HONG KONG — The galloping Chinese box office and 3D top the list of what the Asian biz will be buzzing about at Hong Kong’s Filmart, which runs March 22 to 25.

A majority of the top 10 Chinese-language box office hits in China were Hong Kong movies or co-productions. The number of movies that started lensing in 2009 was 30% higher than the previous year at 70, and the council expects that number to increase in 2010.

“Hong Kong movies, including the co-production of Chinese movies, have proven very popular in the Chinese market,” says says Jack So, chairman of the Hong Kong Film Development Council and prexy of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), which organizes Filmart.

The integration of the Hong Kong and mainland Chinese film markets is an ongoing process, with the cross-border pollination fertilizing the rebound of the Hong Kong biz. And films successful in China have diversified, away from just police and crime movies into musicals, family stories and historical epics.

“In the past couple of years there are signs that the Hong Kong film industry is staging a remarkable recovery,” says So.

Hong Kong’s expertise is in action movies, and local helmer Wilson Yip says martial arts films will continue to play a key role in the city’s movie industry, even as local production companies increase cross-border cooperation.

Some major cross-border projects in the pipeline include the chopsocky pic “Future Cops,” starring Andy Lau and Barbie Hsu, which is being directed by Wong Jing, and will feature the martial arts choreographer Ching Siu Tung. Project has a budget of $22 million.

“The Karate Kid” remake, co-produced by China Film Group and starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith, son of Will Smith, is also hotly anticipated this year, as is Ning Hao’s “Wu Ren Qu” (translated as “No Man’s Land”), which has finished post-production, and is waiting for a release date.

One film expected to keep the hot mainland box office on a roll is “Aftershock,” about the deadliest earthquake of modern times, the 1976 disaster in Tangshan. It’s directed by Beijing helmer Feng Xiaogang, who has scored hits in the domestic market with pics like “Assembly” and “If You Are the One,” and is the first to pass the 1 billion yuan ($150 million) B.O. threshold for his films.

Hong Kong helmer Peter Chan, who last year linked up with Beijing distributor PolyBona and Chinese helmer Huang Jiangxin to form the shingle Cinema Popular, has been skeptical about the belief that the market will keep rising forever.

“Last year was too good to be true. This year everything will go back to being real,” he says.

People are also watching closely to see if more foreign product gets into China, and what that will mean for the Hong Kong market and other Asian markets.

China Film Group vice president Shi Dongming said in a recent Variety interview that the burgeoning Chinese market was opening up to foreign product.

“The number of screens, theaters and audiences keep increasing, and every year we have more films released. The number of imported films is rising and every year we have more than 20 imported films in China,” he asserts. “A long time ago, the national film industry policy viewed film as a propaganda product, which was a wrong position. But since the policy changed, our film industry has started to develop at a very fast speed.”

“It is fortunate that Hong Kong has a huge market on the Chinese mainland, where we are finding new and expanded opportunities,” says thesp Tony Leung, who is acting as Hong Kong Entertainment Ambassador.

“On the downside, dependence on the mainland means we lack market diversity and that’s not healthy,” he says. “And we also still face constraints on film productions, since it’s not easy for some movie themes to win approval from the authorities.”

At FilMart, 3D will also be at the fore: HKTDC has invited experts to come and give presentations to the local industry, since the Chinese are eager to get onboard the lucrative technology.

“Hopefully this year we will start to shoot our first 3D film, since we have already had the script and team in place. The film’s theme will be a folk story, very magic,” says China Film Group’s Shi.

Here’s a link to the Filmart site.

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