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End of SARS helps B.O.

Hong Kong 'eager for entertainment' as IA II' awaited

HONG KONG — This time last year, cinema operators had little to be happy about. World Cup fervor had robbed them of summer audiences, and autumn film offerings were weak.

This year, things are looking brighter. Summer box office figures are up, if only slightly, and the fall lineup appears promising. Everyone is hoping another outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome doesn’t occur, as it would send potential audiences back into hiding.

The box office suffered during the SARS outbreak earlier this year, but it made a decent recovery in the aftermath. “Hong Kong people were eager for entertainment after the SARS crisis,” says Woody Tsung, chief executive of the Motion Picture Industry Assn.

Top foreign films for the summer were “Finding Nemo” ($4.1 million), “The Matrix Reloaded” ($3.5 million) and “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” ($2.3 million). Big local earners included vampire actioner “The Twins Effect” ($3.7 million) and romantic comedies “Love Undercover 2: Love Mission” ($2.7 million) and “Good Time, Bed Times” ($2.6 million).

A number of movies are expected to fare well this fall. “Infernal Affairs II: The Prequel” is expected to pack a fairly large punch when it opens over the Oct. 1 holiday. “Turn Left, Turn Right,” the Johnnie To/Wai Ka-fai love story backed by Warner Bros., made an impressive debut earlier this month. Local films “Running on Karma,” another Johnnie To pic, and “Floating Landscape,” directed by Carol Lai, also are expected to help prevent the B.O. from falling into last autumn’s doldrums.

“As far as we see, this fall has a strong lineup of films,” says Tessa Lau, general manager of corporate development for Edko’s Broadway Circuit cinemas. “‘Matrix Revolutions’ is also opening in November, so we’re quite optimistic for autumn.”

” ‘Infernal Affairs’ II and III” will be the highlights to the year,” says Bob Vallone, general manager of UA Cinemas. “They will take a stinky, rotten year and end it on a happy note.” The third “IA” sequel is lensing now.

While the second half of 2003 looks promising relative to 2002’s, the overall impact isn’t expected to be great. Says the MPIA’s Tsung: “Unless there is a big surprise similar to ‘Infernal Affairs’ last year, the box office for 2003 should be within 5% up or down from last year.”

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