The shift into TV represents a major expansion and diversification for Edko Films, the studio headed by legendary producer-financier-executive Bill Kong (“Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,” “Monster Hunt,” “Mulan”).
The original 2006 “Fearless” was an iconic portrait of martial arts ace Huo Yianjia that was directed by Ronny Tong and starred Jet Li. It received studio-level distribution in many territories through Buena Vista, UIP and Sony Pictures Releasing.
“Cold War” is a 2012 crime action film involving a mole inside the Hong Kong police. It was written and co-directed by Longman Leung and Sunny Luk and had Aaron Kwok, Tony Leung Ka-fai and Charlie Young in lead roles. It spawned a sequel movie in 2016 with an even higher profile cast that included Chow Yun-fat and Eddie Peng.
“We have often received inquiries from abroad about buying the rights to develop these [films] into series. But I’ve never made a deal with anybody. So, since I didn’t make any deal, those rights are all available for myself and Edko to produce,” Kong told Variety.
Kong says that streaming platforms have changed the opportunities for rights owners and producers like Edko.
“We look around the world and see that way that people have tuned in. Not only are there enormous numbers of subscribers, it is changing audience customs and viewing habits. As a company we cannot limit ourselves only to the theatrical world, video, DVD and cable,” said Kong.
Through the pandemic years, Edko has quietly expanded its in-house production development staff. But Kong has not yet allied the company to any streaming platform, either for individual titles or through a slate deal.
“I have been moving things along by myself. It moves much faster that way. In fact, I have many projects, and right now, Edko is funding the development. All those projects are either at script stage. Some of them even may be ready to do the pilot,” said Kong. “I hope when people read our script, or see our pilot, that we can win them over — that they say, ‘Wow, these are very great pieces.’”
Kong is at pains to point out that Edko is not shifting into series production with the intention of abandoning the feature film sector in which he has acted as a unique bridge between Hollywood, Hong Kong and mainland China.
“We are not quitting or stopping to make theatrical movies. We still have a huge slate of movies for Hong Kong and China, and for the regional audiences,” Kong said. The company achieved notable counter-cyclical success last year with the release of “Anita,” a lavish biopic of Cantopop singer-actor Anita Mui. Its current slate includes “Table for Six,” a seasonal comedy that was delayed by COVID-related cinema closures that Kong has high hopes for as a summer release.
Scaling back would have been an understandable position, given the enormous difficulties faced by the cinema exhibition industries in Hong Kong and mainland China, which Edko also straddles. One of Hong Kong’s other major cinema operators filed for liquidation last year.
Hong Kong’s production sector has also been starved of revenues and now suffers the additional hurdle of navigating a way around a new censorship law, which places a heavy emphasis on national security issues. The new law might appear to encroach upon many of Hong Kong films’ favorite themes, such as crime, corruption and triad gangs, but few have so far sought to test it.
Kong says he remains optimistic about the territory as an entertainment production hub. “It is still pretty good. It still has the people, the production crews. They are still very good. There’s certain kinds of cinemas. If you’re looking to make a martial arts movie, there’s no place else you should go other than Hong Kong. If you want to make an action, or police action movie, people from China and Taiwan are still coming to Hong Kong to make them.”