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‘Men on the Dragon’ Invigorates Hong Kong’s Indie Scene

Upbeat Hong Kong stories that bring audience laughter and optimism rather than highly stylized dramas about heavy subjects could be the antidote for an industry struggling with its identity in the post-handover era, according “Men on the Dragon” director Sunny Chan.

The local drama has garnered more than HK$9.5 million ($1.2 million) since its Aug. 2 release. Produced by One Cool Picture, and directed Chan, a long-time screenwriter making his directorial debut, “Men on the Dragon” is the best-performing Hong Kong movie locally this summer.

“Men on the Dragon,” a seemingly ordinary story about middle-age men taking part in a company dragon boat race to avoid being sacked, has received strong word-of-mouth among not only critics but general audiences who have complimented the movie on social media for its positive message amid the ongoing political turmoil in Hong Kong.

Compared with recent successful examples by new Hong Kong directors such as “Mad World” (2017), “Ten Years” (2015), “Trivisa” (2016) and “Tomorrow Is Another Day” (2018), “Men on the Dragon” is less gloomy and more uplifting, says Chan, who set out to make a commercial film that people like.

Chan, who has been writing scripts since 2000 and contributed to commercial titles such as “Monster Hunt 2,” says the reality of Hong Kong cinema today does not allow filmmakers to raise a big budget unless it’s a co-production. Thus, he said, topical subject matters, stylized narrative and cinematography are needed to dress the film up.

“Ten Years,” a dystopian film about Hong Kong’s future as Beijing tightens control over the city, earned about $764,297 in the box office. “Mad World,” which tells the story about bipolar disorder and poverty, earned $2 million.

But Chan says the mainstream audience wants something different in the long run. “These films will have support but at the end of the day most people still see movies as entertainment,” he says.

“Men on the Dragon” had a budget of $2 million, including a portion coming from Film Development Fund and an ensemble cast of household names including Francis Ng. Chan says compared to other recent Hong Kong films by first-time directors, the budget is bigger.

He had another luxury, which is time. He wrote the first draft of the script in 2004. The final version was the 11th draft. He says One Cool Film did not interfere the creative direction and the company was convinced that the film has potential and went on to find more investors.

“I feel that we now need stories with more classic themes, but details in the characterization, story development and scene design have to be new. There is no need to be exaggerating or experimental for the sake of it,” Chan says. “I’m considering a sequel. The team wants to work together again.”

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