H.K. breathes easier over SARS

Gov't looks to star power to encourage tourism

HONG KONG — Local industryites battling the effect of the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic are breathing a sign of relief after the World Health Organization lifted its advisory discouraging nonessential travel Friday.

The three-day average number of new SARS cases has fallen below five and there have been no new exported cases.

Hopes are high that business can return to normal, after several film trade events were cancelled or postponed and business travel in and out of Hong Kong was curtailed. Filmart is rescheduled for Sept. 24-26 but the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum and Hong Kong-Asia Screenings may not take place this year.

The government is hoping to parade high-profile people through Hong Kong to encourage visitors to return, with talk of trying to bring back cancelled concerts such as the Rolling Stones and Andy Williams.

Overseas, the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Canada will launch film festival Gems From Asia’s Hollywood: A Retrospective of John Woo to help regenerate interest in Hong Kong.

“The film festival will be staged in Toronto at the end of June and in Vancouver at the end of July,” said Rosanna Ure, director of the trade office (Canada), adding that there were discussions to bring the fest to Calgary.

The box office, which was down 40% in April from the same time last year, should get a boost as residents feel less fearful about being in crowded or public places.

” ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ has been doing well, partly because of the timing,” said Woody Tsung, CEO of the Hong Kong Motion Picture Industry Assn. “With the lifting of the WHO advisory, people feel less worried. It’s psychological.”

Movie execs who did not attend the Cannes Film Festival are eager to resume their business routines.

“We were going to start flying in June, even if the advisory wasn’t lifted,” said Peter Poon, general manager of Fortune Star, the production and distrib arm of Star Group. “We’ve been able to conduct most of our business over the phone. But for the creative side, like script development, it’s better to meet face to face.”

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