Last month’s Hong Kong Film Awards was on a special mission. In addition to the usual star-studded glamour, the event was literally a stage for newcomers. Lesser-known young actors were given the opportunity to present awards as well as giving speeches to introduce the best film contenders to the audience.
The event, with 37 years of history behind it, has never felt so young and refreshing.
The special treatment given to the young actors was seen as a response to a crisis of the Hong Kong film industry. As established stars ranging from Chow Yun-fat and Andy Lau to international action heroes Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen age well into their 50s and 60s (even Louis Koo, first-time lead actor winner at this year’s Hong Kong Film Awards, is now 47), there’s no new generation of local younger stars to follow in their footsteps.
“Hong Kong has a lot of great young talents but times have changed and they have less exposure and opportunities to practice their crafts in bigger, proper productions,” says Wellington Fung, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Film Development Council.
The Film Development Council has been backing young directors in recent years through the Film Development Fund and the First Feature Film Initiative, which gave rise to new talent such as Wong Chun (“Mad World”) and Cheung King-wai (“Somewhere Beyond the Mist”). But this year, the council added a focus on new actors through a campaign called Nova Power, dressing up 10 fresh faces, including Rachel Leung, Zeno Koo and Kyle Li, the young cast from “Somewhere Beyond the Mist,” in the hope of helping these young hopefuls make an impression among members of the industry.
“We are here to create job opportunities for the new blood. We want to introduce these young on-screen talents to the industry and the public,” Fung says.
From the 1970s to the 1990s, when Hong Kong’s television industry was booming, it served as a cradle for movie stars. Today’s biggest Hong Kong stars such as Chow, Lau, Koo, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Maggie Cheung and Carina Lau were all trained at broadcaster TVB, while Yen began as an actor with ATV, another television company.
But the city’s television industry has been in dire straits in the past decade, losing viewers to broadcasts originating elsewhere in the region, including South Korea and mainland China. That decline has caused the local television industry to lose its status as a star manufacturer.
Andy Lo, who cast young actor Carlos Chan in his directorial debut — the drama “Happiness” (2016) — says rookie actors had many more opportunities in the heyday of Hong Kong’s film industry, when nearly 300 films were made every year. Today, production figures have dropped to just one-sixth of that and many of the pictures are co-productions with mainland China, which require at least one-third of the leading cast to come from the mainland.
Rather than relying solely on film and television, today many Hong Kong actors are trained at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and participate in independent productions. Lo says young actors today should diversify their acting platforms, expanding to theater in addition to film and television in order to build a solid foundation.
He cites the case of Ling Man-lung, winner of this year’s newcomer award for his stunning portrayal of an autistic son in family drama “Tomorrow Is Another Day” at the Hong Kong Film Awards, as an example.
“Ling has been a theater actor for many years and has built solid acting skills. That’s why when he makes his debut on the big screen, he shines like no one else,” says Lo. “Chances are rare these days, so you must work on your craft and give your best performance when the opportunity comes.”
Ling says the award was a major encouragement and he will continue to pursue acting in both theater and film. His performance has already impressed many producers and directors and he’s expecting to appear in another drama feature later this year.
“It seems that there is such a gap but I was delighted to see many fellow new actors coming on stage. I’m glad that the industry is taking the initiative to pass the legacy on to the new generation,” says Ling.
(Pictured above: Lin Man-lung accepting his new performer award for “Tomorrow Is Another Day” at the Hong Kong Film Awards)