Hong Kong’s film industry moved ahead on several fronts over the weekend after coronavirus-mandated lockdowns were reduced. But the return to business is likely to be uneven.
Cinemas reopened on Thursday, after being ordered shut since Dec. 2, 2020. A local producer-distributor Golden Scene pulled back the curtains on its expansion into exhibition. And Emperor Motion Picture unveiled plans for a big-budget movie, firmly centered in the territory’s crime drama tradition, and reuniting two of its most bankable stars Andy Lau and Tony Leung Chiu-wai, last seen together in the iconic “Infernal Affairs” trilogy.
Box office over the weekend totaled $2.2 million (HK$17.1 million) over the four days between Thursday and Sunday, according to data from the Hong Kong Box Office Limited, a joint venture of the Motion Picture Industry Association and the Hong Kong Theater Association.
While the organization declined to provide running totals for each film, it said that local crime thriller “Shock Wave 2” starring Andy Lau and Sean Lau Ching-wan, headed the box office. It was followed by “Wonder Woman 1984,” animated feature “Soul,” Hong Kong youth dance drama “The Way We Keep Dancing” and Japanese anime “Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train.”
After being closed for 163 days in the last year, and missing the recent Christmas, New year and Lunar New Year peak seasons, Hong Kong movie theaters can now operate with 50% capacity restrictions. The city government has also banned food and drink in auditoriums, meaning that theaters are deprived of concessions revenue and may continue to struggle even if attendance holds up well.
“The box office has already performed really well. It shows that audiences still love to go to the cinema, which is a safe and comfortable place to watch movies,” HKTA’s secretariat told Variety. “We hope that landlords can understand cinemas’ struggles and offer rental concessions. We also urge the government to quickly remove the restrictions imposed on cinemas so that businesses could return to the way it was before,” said HKTA secretariat.
Despite the continuing uncertainties, Thursday also saw the inauguration of Golden Scene’s art and culture themed boutique cinema with four houses with a total of 283 seats. It is located in the Kennedy Town district, close to the recently extended subway system and to a student catchment area.
Production got underway on “Mother Tongue,” a drama directed by Mike Figgis, starring and produced by singer-actor Josie Ho. And on Saturday, Emperor held a star-studded event — the first of its kind since the pandemic hit the city – to lay out plans for “Once Upon A Time in Hong Kong,” which carries an ambitious $45 million (HK$350 million) production price tag. The story draws on real events connected to the infamous rise and fall of the Carrian Group in the 1980s.
“I have high hopes for this film. I hope it will bring glory to Hong Kong cinema and become the biggest box office champion of all Hong Kong films,” said EMP chairman Albert Yeung.