After “Parasite” and “Squid Game” struck planet-wide notes with their critique of elitism, Trevor Choi’s “Smashing Frank” is a timely Hong Kong twist on the revenge-against-the-rich theme.
It is being pitched at the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) that this week runs alongside the FilMart rights market.
“This is a comedy-drama about four millennials who form a squad to rob the rich. During the course of the crime, they are outraged as they gradually realize that the older generation will never change their ways. This motivates them to use stealing as their way of fighting back against the rich and the unkind,” says Choi of the project that is presented this week as part of the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF).
Hong Kong has long had a massive gulf between the super-rich and the poor and other films, including Josie Ho’s “Dream Home” and Fruit Chan’s more recent “Coffin Homes,” have explored it. What may give “Smashing Frank” another edge is the complicated political context in Hong Kong that has arisen from the pro-democracy movement, its put-down by the city government and the territory’s self-isolation strategy under COVID. All have raised tensions in the city. But Choi says he is taking a measured approach.
“That [the protagonists] only target wealthy, older folks is a socio-political angle. The film is a metaphor. Audiences will have to work it out for themselves,” Choi told Variety, explaining that “Smashing Frank” is not an obscure art film, nor is it budgeted as such.
It comes with a production price tag of $1.5 million, of which $100,000 had been secured prior to HAF.
“Hong Kong film making is very tough at the moment. It has become very polarized,” says Choi. He explains that most commercial films need to target the mainland Chinese market and have become stuck in a cops and gangster vein or be very low-budget art house titles.
“In my case it is neither. ‘Smashing Frank’ is not addressing only a Hong Kong market, but audiences everywhere. It is intended to be a piece of entertainment with something meaningful at its core,” says Choi. “To me these are the best movies. Like ‘Parasite’ or [2017 Taiwan title] ‘The Great Buddha Plus’.”
Choi, who was partly educated abroad, returned to his native Hong Kong in 2018 to take up a course at the Hong Kong Film Directors’ Guild. There he was mentored by Fruit Chan, the somewhat rebellious veteran writer-director who is now producer of “Smashing Frank.” “Initially, in 2019, we thought that the First Film Initiative might be the place to fund it, but that was not successful and turned to HAF instead.
That setback has been turned to the project’s advantage. “Since then I’ve had almost weekly meetings with Fruit Chan and he has helped push it through maybe twenty rewrites,” says Choi. “From HAF we are looking at all kinds of collaboration, from co-production to distribution, and will release a concept video after the market.”