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Do Young Generation Awards Contenders Hail a Hong Kong New Wave?

Young filmmakers are poised to steal the show at the Hong Kong Film Awards. At the ceremony this weekend they go head to head with some of the city’s biggest names for many of the top awards, suggesting the possibility of a long-awaited second wave of Hong Kong cinema.

All eyes are on films such as “Mad World,” “Trivisa,” and “Weeds on Fire” with young directing talents. They compete against Stephen Chow’s Hong Kong-mainland blockbuster “The Mermaid” and crime thriller “Cold War II” in the best film category.

They go into the ceremony having already picked up significant kudos. “Mad World” by first time director Wong Chun, recently won the Osaka Asian Film Festival and went on commercial release in Hong Kong last week, to predominantly positive reviews.

“Trivisa” won two prizes at the Golden Horse Awards in October and was a nominee for best film. Its three directors Frank Hui, Jevons Au and Vicky Wong were mentored by Hong Kong big shot Johnnie To, and Au already has a best film win at the HKFA under his belt as co-director of “Ten Years,” last year’s shock winner. “Ten Years” presented a dystopian vision of Hong Kong under the influence of mainland China.

Industry players now hope that, 20 years after the handover of the territory’s sovereignty from Britain to China, and the departure of many leading Hong Kong figures for the vast and lucrative market in mainland China, such youngsters could be the beginning of a second wave of Hong Kong cinema. The 1970s to mid-1990s is often labeled as Hong Kong cinema’s golden era.

Many of the big names in current Hong Kong and mainland Chinese cinema, both behind the camera and in front, made their names in that period. Many also learned their craft in the days when TVB was a pioneer.

The new generation have more diverse backgrounds. Some graduated from film schools, making smaller projects that defied commercial traditions, and received backing from both industry sources and the Hong Kong government’s Film Development Fund. The fund began financing film projects in 2007.

Others, among those competing at the HKFA got their break thanks to To, who founded the Fresh Wave Short Film Festival in 2005. The festival was initially backed by the Arts Development Council and is now an independent charity chaired by To, nurturing young filmmakers.

Florence Chan, who wrote the “Mad World” screenplay about a young man suffering from bipolar disorder, Wong, the film’s director, and Au are among alumni of Fresh Wave. Wong was already named best new director at the Golden Horse. Wong and Chan went also collected the best director and best screenplay awards at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society earlier this year.

Chan and Wong began working as a team at Fresh Wave. The opportunity to make US$258,000 (HK$2 million) “Mad World” came when the pair won a prize at the First Feature Film Initiative.

Chan, 28, says her generation of filmmakers are different from their immediate predecessors. “In the 1990s, a number of Hong Kong filmmakers ventured overseas. In the 2000s, they made films in mainland China. But we want filmmaking to come back to Hong Kong. We want to tell Hong Kong, grassroots stories,” she said.

That means similarities with filmmakers from the first Hong Kong new wave, such as Ann Hui and Patrick Tam. “We graduated from film schools, instead of working our way up in the industry. They studied abroad and returned to Hong Kong to make TV films and then feature movies. Some, like Ann Hui, focused on social issues,” said Chan.

Some things never change. Despite the potential on display, financing remains an issue. When all the big investors are looking at the mainland China industry, new, local Hong Kong films are not regarded as sufficiently commercial. Many had to rely on FDC support.

“Mad World” and 2016 breakout “Weeds on Fire” were both first-year winners of the First Feature Film Initiative, launched in 2013 in conjunction with government agency Create Hong Kong.

Wellington Fung, secretary-general of the FDC, says the government is now looking at revamping the schemes this year. The fund has backed 52 projects with a total of US$19 million (HK$147 million) to date.

“Eventually young filmmakers have to take their chances in the commercial market,” Fung says. “But audiences are much more sophisticated these days. They want something that is more than just entertainment or pure excitement. I’m hopeful.”

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