Star Chinese Movies has been through a succession of changes in its 20-year history, changes that reflect many of the currents in Chinese cinema and Asian television — not to mention the shifting tastes of the audiences it serves.
“Hong Kong films travel the best, although Taiwanese audiences are now less responsive to Hong Kong movies than they were,” says topper Cora Yim. “Mainland Chinese movies don’t travel well, and unfortunately we have the ratings to prove it. That is especially true in Taiwan.”
That is a perplexing trend that many observers expect will continue. As the Sino film industry grows and as Chinese producers become more adept at understanding audience preferences, the greatest rewards will be found by producing content that caters ever more to domestic mainland tastes.
That in turn gives SCM, which does not operate in China but is run by Fox Intl. Channels in Hong Kong, all the more reason to cater to its local audiences in the rest of Asia. To date, localization has been done through FIC’s different film choices and by varying the program menu for each feed with a different mix of movie awards shows, live events and high-end documentaries.
Yim, and FIC’s boss in Asia, Ward Platt, are now keen to take that process a step further and add in content produced especially for Star Chinese Movies. This follows the model pioneered by HBO and successfully adopted by Netflix in the U.S., as well as increasingly aped by China’s online video platforms.
“We are developing miniseries that we hope to kick off later this year. We really want to raise the bar. We need really good product and really good directors,” says Yim, who adds that HBO’s “True Detective” would be a good comparison. “SCM’s target audience is male, hence our preference for thriller, action and crime movies. The miniseries will be similarly targeted.”
But Yim says SCM is not interested in becoming full-fledged producers. “We want to make things happen. So we will look for a Chinese or Southeast Asian partner to share the rights and the costs. We are the end-users, and will sell remaining rights to China and Japan.”
SCM’s involvement in local production goes back nearly a decade to the time when the channel committed to Focus First Cuts, a local production slate with superstar Andy Lau’s Focus Films. Since then it has signed similar arrangements with production services group Salon Films for Salon First Cuts and in 2013 with Emperor.
It has also backed individual film productions including Taiwan’s game-changing local hit “Cape No. 7” and Jack Neo’s 2012 Singapore comedy “Ah Boys to Men.”
Yim and SCM have co-invested in four of the new Chinese-language movies being produced out of Singapore. Others include Neo’s upcoming “The Lion Men” and Adrian Teh’s “The Wedding Diary.” It was also an early buyer of rights to Anthony Chen’s awards magnet “Ilo Ilo.”
“Singapore is a key market for us, so it makes sense to get involved with local films there. They are done well in Malaysia and Taiwan too,” says Yim. “Once we launch in Malaysia we will look for co-producers and production possibilities.”
“I think we have an obligation to support local talent working in Chinese whether they are in Hong Kong, Taiwan or Singapore,” Yim adds.