Yeoh actioner sets sights abroad after weak opening

'Hawk' isn't flying high

Tix for Michelle Yeoh starrer “Silver Hawk” didn’t exactly fly out of Hong Kong theaters, but producer Han Entertainment is pinning its hopes on worldwide distribution to make the film soar.

With one of Hong Kong’s biggest stars and budgeted much higher than most local pics, there were high hopes for the sci-fi actioner.

The $15 million pic, which bowed Jan. 20 on 27 screens in Hong Kong, earned a measly HK$108,000 ($14,000) its opening weekend. After 13 days, “Silver Hawk” has taken in $415,000, and it’s soon to be chased out of theaters by newcomers and better-performing pics.

Speculation about the high-profile bomb has flooded a local Hong Kong movie fan Web site, which posted critical comments, calling the film “pretentious” and “dai B” (“low B,” Hong Kong slang for poor quality).

While admitting disappointment, Han managing director Thomas Chung insists the lackluster opening doesn’t reflect the quality of the film. “The cinema lineup was less than admirable and the marketing was found wanting,” he says, adding “Hawk” has been No. 1 in China, Malaysia and Thailand.

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Pic will open in Korea in March, Japan in April and Europe this summer. A North American distribution deal is in the works, per Chung.

“The average budget for a Hong Kong-produced film is $1 million to $1.5 million,” says Woody Tsung, chief exec of the Hong Kong Motion Picture Industry Assn. “For films like ‘Silver Hawk,’ where the budget well exceeds that, it would be very risky to rely just on Hong Kong.”

Chung says thinking globally is Han’s strategy. “Our aim is not just at Hong Kong. The market is small and culturally it’s not easy to understand what works and what doesn’t.”

The rampant piracy and the introduction of VCDs in Hong Kong have had a “terrorist effect” on B.O. sales, he says.

To some, it’s little surprise that Han’s latest, which was made both as an English-lingo and a mixed Cantonese- and English-lingo film, flopped in Hong Kong but set its sights on worldwide success.

“The Touch,” a $20 million Yeoh actioner, grossed only in $1.5 million in Hong Kong. But according to Chung, the 2002 pic was a big hit in China and had recouped its entire investment prior to shooting, when Miramax bought rights for North America and Europe.

Despite the disastrous Hong Kong B.O., Han is continuing with its plans for two sequels to “Silver Hawk.” The next installments will be more futuristic and comic, with more stunts, Chung says.

Yeoh is attached to star in “Silver Hawk II,” which likely will be helmed by Jingle Ma (“Silver Hawk,” “Tokyo Raiders”).

When asked about his expectations for sequel’s showing in hometown Hong Kong, Chung stresses he’s still focusing beyond his borders. “When you open ‘Spider-man II,’ ” he says, “You don’t think ‘just Hong Kong.’ “

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