Magazine article Variety

Handover Hangover: Film at the Crossroads

Magazine article Variety

Handover Hangover: Film at the Crossroads

Article excerpt

When China took over Hong Kong's sovereignty from Britain in 1997, the former British colony was promised "50 years unchanged" under the framework of "one country, two systems."

Twenty years on, a lot has changed, including Hong Kong cinema.

At the turn of the 20th anniversary of the handover, Hong Kong cinema is at a crossroad. Filmmakers are facing questions concerning the future of the city's film industry, which was once known to the world as "Hollywood East."

"We must think about how Hong Kong cinema should position itself in order to find our way to the future," says Wong Chun, the 28-year-old director of Hong Kong drama "Mad World," which won the new director prize at last year's Golden Horse Film awards in Taiwan and Hong Kong Film Awards this year. "What is our strength, as compared to films from other Asian countries? It's time to reflect on this."

The unification with China has brought about dramatic changes to Hong Kong cinema both in terms of storytelling and financing over the past 20 years. While some of Hong Kong's best films had been produced during this period, such as Wong Kar Wai's "In the Mood for Love" (2000), Stephen Chow's "Shaolin Soccer" (2001), Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's "Infernal Affairs" (2002) and Johnnie To's "Election" (2005), the changing dynamics of the city's political situation and economy as well as its relations with mainland China gave rise to opportunities as well as problems.

The Hong Kong film industry saw a decline in the 1990s due to rampant piracy and the loss of regional markets. The situation worsened during the first five years after Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of China as the city was hit by Asian Financial Crisis that began in 1997 and the SARS epidemic. Hong Kong's economy plunged to a new low. In 2004, fewer than 70 films were made, compared to some 200 a year in early 1990s.

In light of the economic crisis, the Closer Economic Partnership Agreement was enacted between Hong Kong and mainland China. Under this framework, Hong Kong films were exempted from the import quota in mainland China, and films co-produced by Hong Kong and mainland companies could be distributed as domestic movies on the mainland.

This opened up the fast-growing mainland market to many Hong Kong filmmakers and appeared to rescue the film industry from further demise. The number of co-productions went up by nearly threefold over the following decade from just 10 in 2004. Some of the city's top directors including Tsui Hark and Peter Chan Ho-sun went across the border. …

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