Mainland China’s film market might be volatile and unpredictable for many Hong Kong filmmakers, but that does not stop Andy Lo from trying. The long-time scriptwriter and director of “Happiness” says he wants the best of both worlds, and he’s determined to achieve that.
“I do want my films to succeed in both Hong Kong and mainland China, but the harder and more obvious you are, the more likely you will lose,” says Lo. “I think we should separate the two markets: you either make a film that is very Hong Kong, or one that targets mainland local culture.”
Lo began as a scriptwriter for “Gorgeous” (1999), which starred Jackie Chan. He went on to co-write many titles including quirky crime drama “Crazy ’N the City” (2005), which won the screenplay prize at Hong Kong’s Golden Bauhinia Awards in 2006; comedy “My Name Is Fame” (2006); and last year’s blockbuster “The Adventurers.”
He made his directorial debut in 2016 with “Happiness,” a drama revolving around a young man who has lost his mother and is abandoned by his father. He develops a heartwarming mother-and-son connection with a lonely woman who displays early signs of dementia. Kara Wai won the actress award for her role at last year’s Hong Kong Film Awards. Lo was also nominated for new director.
The film grossed more than HK$3 million ($383,580) in Hong Kong, which Lo describes as “standard” for a low-budget film. But it only took 962,000 yuan ($152,621) with a limited release in mainland China, despite earning the praise of audiences.
The mainland market is a gamble as a film’s success depends a lot on the distribution, says Lo. He says nowadays films go straight to web releases after theatrical release, and if a film has a small budget and does not have a big cast, it might not even get theatrical release. And if this happens before the film is even released in Hong Kong, the box office potential will be dented, which is what happened to “Happiness,” Lo says.
But Lo is not giving up. Compared to other young filmmakers in Hong Kong who are mostly graduates of art or film schools, he is an industry veteran. “College graduates might have wild imagination but my strength is my background as a scriptwriter, and investors are more likely to believe in a project helmed by someone who can produce a good script,” Lo says.
Lo is working on a new drama revolving around secrets among siblings, to be produced by actor-producer Gordon Lam. He calls the film, tentatively titled “Family Pathway,” the second instalment of his “family trilogy” after “Happiness.” It will start filming in the second half of 2018. He is also working on sci-fi project with which he wants to target the mainland.
“If I make a film in Hong Kong, I want the whole film to retain this ‘Hongkongness.’ But I’m also willing to go to China and make a mainland film with mainland cast. You cannot please everyone. But if a film is good, people are still willing to see it.”