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Hong Kong: Femme-skewed titles prove a winning formula

Territory Reports

B.O. cume (through September): $73.1 million
Top Hong Kong title: “Initial D” (distrib: Media Asia, $4.9 million)

“Babel” (Celestial Pictures)
“Constant Gardener” (Edko Films)
“Joni’s Promise” (Focus Films)
“Sword” (tentative title) (Golden Network)
“Train Man” (Golden Harvest)

“The Banquet”: Media Asia’s biggest co-production with China’s Huayi brothers, at a budget of more than $20 million. Pic, helmed by Feng Xiaogang, is loosely inspired by “Hamlet.” Cast includes Ziyi Zhang, Zhou Xun and Daniel Wu. (Media Asia)
“Perhaps Love”: This is the first Chinese musical to hit the cinemas in 40 years. Pic is Hong Kong’s foreign-language Oscar selection. Cast: Takeshi Kaneshiro (“House of Flying Daggers”), China’s Zhou Xun (“Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress”) and Hong Kong’s Jacky Cheung. Director is Peter Chan Ho-sun. (Celestial Pictures)
“The Shoe Fairy”: The first of six films from Focus: First Cuts, an HD project sponsored by Andy Lau’s Focus Films featuring young directors from across the region. Pic, helmed by Robin Lee, has a cast that includes Vivian Hsu. (Focus Films)

HONG KONG — Hong Kong isn’t clamoring for independent titles, but distribs are always on the lookout for something fresh.

“Since Hong Kong is a small territory, not like Korea, Japan or China, the subject matter should be niche or special,” says Carrie Wong, managing director at Golden Network Asia, which will be screening two Thai horror films at AFM, “Hell” and “Scared.”

There is a market for independent films in Hong Kong, says Audrey Lee, general manager of sales and acquisitions at Edko Films, which has a chain of cinemas on the island. “They can find an audience, but maybe not as big” as the studio movies, which dominate the market.

One group independent titles can cater to is the “office lady” (OL) market, which consists of women in their 20s. Says Wong, “The OL market likes animals, films about friendship, love.” An example would be last year’s box office hit from Japan “Quill.”

One of the major factors facing the industry across the board is piracy. “Everybody is trying to release a movie as close to the U.S. release date to fight piracy,” Lee says.

For independent titles, this can be difficult because it’s necessary to coordinate with multiple distributors around the world as opposed to one studio.

Security in theaters is a problem, notes Wong, pointing to Thai pic “Tom yum goong” as an example. Five days after its simultaneous release across Asia, DVD copies were available. It was filmed in a Hong Kong theater and dubbed into Mandarin with multiple subtitle options.

Another cause for concern is falling admissions that don’t help to offset escalating publicity and advertising costs for films.

In terms of ancillary deals, Hong Kong pics with local casts aren’t difficult to sell to TV or video outfits, Wong says. However, pay TV is quite difficult because channels tend to focus on more commercial and blockbuster studio fare.

Video sales, while small, are quite healthy, especially for local films. But Lee says overall video sales have declined by at least 20% this year due in large part to Internet piracy.

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