No high road to China for Hong Kong biz

HONG KONG — Dashing hopes that the handover will open doors on the mainland, a top-ranking official in the Chinese film bureaucracy told Hong Kong film distributors Thursday not to expect preferential treatment after July 1.

To be sure, the ailing local industry wasn’t expecting an open invitation to set up shop in the potentially lucrative 1.2 billion mainland market. But there was hope that reunification with the motherland could help eliminate some of the hurdles put in the path of everyone who attempts to market films in China.

“We don’t anticipate Hong Kong movies can enter into China’s film market without special registration. They still have to be distributed through China’s film channels,” said Dou Shoufang, deputy director of the film bureau of the Ministry of Radio, Film and Television.

In a rare press conference by a Chinese official, especially on Hong Kong soil, the standing-room-only crowd at the first Hong Kong Intl. Film Market, Filmart, heard Dou provide usually unconfirmed figures on the number of homegrown and imported films.

On average, mainland production companies turn out about 150 films a year. In addition, another 30 co-productions with Hong Kong or other foreign companies are released annually, and 15-16 foreign movies are imported.

Co-prod’n advantage

Dou indicated that Hong Kong producers would find themselves in a better position when it comes to co-productions after the change of sovereignty. “With the return of Hong Kong after 157 years of colonial rule, certainly China and Hong Kong will work more closely. Hong Kong would probably be put in a more advantageous position because we will be one country,” Dou said.

But he then added that those advantages will not mean special treatment or relaxation of the distribution rules.

Dou also reiterated the official position that Hong Kong can carry on as before, under the “one country, two systems” policy.

Mixed message

“China will not interfere in the film industry here,” he said. “Hong Kong can continue making movies as before.”

But then he added that “all movies in Hong Kong will be regarded as part of China’s movies.”

For industry watchers looking for proof that China will enforce its notorious brand of censorship here, those words carry more weight than any promise of independence.

“They just don’t get it, do they?” said one American buyer.

For Choi Kit Man, who works for a local glossy movie magazine, it’s obvious what the mainlanders have in mind. “No more gay films. No sex films,” she said.

Continuing his overview of the Chinese market, Dou estimated that there are 70,000 screens, including mobile units in rural areas, throughout the country.

“During the transition to a market economy, we don’t have an accurate number of cinemas,” he said.

Dou said the Chinese industry began its reforms in 1993 but that hasn’t been enough time to guarantee results. “We need to cater for the needs of the audience and the market. One of our chief targets is to produce high-quality films to get the audiences into the cinemas.”

Dou said that he was optimistic regarding China’s film industry: “We are facing a lot of difficulties and challenges but we are working hard to overcome them. We have the largest viewing population in the world.”

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