Hong Kong hopes

First market aims to revive ailing industry

HONG KONG — Battling a growing reputation for making low-quality films, the heavy hitters of the Hong Kong film industry fought back at the first Hong Kong Intl. Film Market, Filmart, which runs through Friday.

With just weeks to go before the colony reverts to Chinese rule, the government-sponsored market, featuring 70-plus exhibitors, is leaning on big names such as Golden Harvest and Shaw Brothers to lead the ailing industry into a new era.

Officials are heavily promoting the fact that despite its troubles, Hong Kong is still the third-largest film producer in the world and the second largest exporter. Golden Harvest chairman Raymond Chow, who spoke at the opening ceremony, acknowledged that the industry “has gone through a difficult period domestically” in recent years.

“But it would not be what you see today if Hong Kong had withered from a little adversity,” he added. “The health, indeed the existence, of our industry depends not only on a strong and vibrant domestic market but also on reaching audiences throughout the world.”

Global change

But that worldwide market is changing. Taiwan, for instance, once lapped up Hong Kong’s output. Now, American films grab about 90% of audience and Chinese-language films of all stripes garner the remainder.

What hurts Hong Kong even more is that the rejection of local fare comes at a time when the region is booming economically, and people have more time and money than ever before to spend on leisure pursuits.

“We have a very buoyant economy in Malaysia,” said Henry Tan, group marketing manager of HVD Film Production. “We’ve had 10 years of 8% growth each year. That translates into the ability to consume entertainment. In the past we skewed toward Hong Kong. But the trend is now towards Hollywood.”

Buyers at the market were asking lots of questions and schmoozing with old friends, but few were making deals, at least so far. “I already know where to go to get what I need,” is how one buyer put it.

Slow-going

“They’re not ready to buy. It’s been slow,” said Jennifer Hung, manager for administration and distribution for Ocean Shores Group, a video distributor. “Those that come by really want action-type films. They request John Woo movies or old titles by Ringo Lam.”

Hung said she has already caught up with steady clients from Southeast Asia but would like to see some fresh faces. “We would like to find new territories that have never been explored. Where are the Russians and Italians? We would like to see Europeans and especially Latin Americans.”

Another question mark hanging over the proceedings concerns the role of the mainland Chinese in the local industry after the July 1 handover. The market attracted a record group of 60 delegates from China, led by the Film Bureau of the Ministry of Radio, Film & Television.

For Chow of Golden Harvest, there’s no question that the two industries will merge — and that they will flourish. “There will not only be ‘One Country, Two Systems,’ ” he said, referring to the deal that guarantees Hong Kong’s special status in the decades ahead, “but also ‘One Country, One Great Film Industry.’ “

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