Despite all the usual glitter and glamor, the Hong Kong Film Awards (HKFA) presentation ceremony held last Sunday was tinged with a sense of sadness.
Normally, the HKFA panel and voters bestow the top awards on local productions; after all, the annual affair is organized by and for the Hong Kong movie industry. But mainland-Hong Kong co-productions stole the spotlight this year.
The Golden Era, a movie about a group of young writers in the 1930s China, was the night’s biggest winner, grabbing five trophies including best film and best director. It’s a Mandarin-language movie co-produced by mainland and Hong Kong film studios.
Mainland star Zhao Wei won the best actress award for her role as a child abductor’s wife in the film Dearest, also a cross-border collaboration.
After receiving the best screenplay award, Overheard 3 screenwriter Felix Chong Man-keung sought to debunk the claim that the local film industry is dying. Ironically, the mainland’s Bona Film Group is a major investor in his movie.
Local movie lovers and industry workers may not want to admit it, but the reality is that the Hong Kong movie industry is losing its shine. It is also true that local producers find it hard to survive without considering the preference of mainland audiences.
Hong Kong is a tiny film market when compared with the mainland. And as such, it is hard for producers to find investors for movies dealing with local themes.
Limited investment and lower quality are weaknesses of Hong Kong-produced movies.
Among the five nominees for best film, The Midnight After is the only local production shot entirely in Hong Kong and performed by local actors.
However, it is generally perceived as a “B movie”, a pejorative term referring to low-budget commercial productions.
Also, it is quite sad to notice the wide gap in the acting skills of experienced and new actors. In other words, the industry lacks new blood to rejuvenate itself.
The shortage of talented local performers is best reflected in the best new performer category.
It was both hilarious and sad that Ivana Wong Yuen-chi was nominated three times for three different movies for the award, which had only five nominees. Unsurprisingly, she won the award.
And as if that were not enough to hammer the point home, Wong also grabbed the best supporting actress trophy later that night.
With the signing of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement in 2003, Hong Kong-produced movies are allowed to enter the mainland market if the film fulfills certain criteria.
For example, at least one-third of the main cast must be Chinese mainlanders, and the story of the film should take place somewhere on the mainland.
Through such tie-ups, mainland filmmakers get to learn the style and other technical aspects of Hong Kong filmmaking. Their Hong Kong partners, on the other hand, are typically profit-driven.
Co-production films often deliver impressive ticket sales on the mainland, but much less so in Hong Kong.
The cruel reality is, the thing that the local movie industry needs to regain its old glory is limited by the current economic environment.
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