24 October 2016
Hong Kong's recent movie productions are having a good run in mainland China, boosting the prospects of the city's filmmakers.
Hong Kong's recent movie productions are having a good run in mainland China, boosting the prospects of the city's filmmakers.

HK films mounting a comeback in China cinemas

The Mong Kok unrest may have added to mainlanders’ worries about “separatist forces” in Hong Kong, but that hasn’t led to calls for boycott of things from across the border.

This is good news particularly for Hong Kong’s movie industry, which is struggling to regain its old glory.

During the Lunar New Year season, Chinese spectators flocked to theaters showing Hong Kong movies, gladdening the hearts of the city’s filmmakers. 

I can recount examples of my own relatives — in Shanghai and Ningbo — who said they went to cinemas more than once during the holiday.

Topping their viewing list were Hong Kong productions, titles such as The Mermaid (美人魚), From Vegas to Macau III (澳門風雲III) and The Monkey King 2 (西遊記之孫悟空三打白骨精).

The fact is that while mainlanders may take in Beijing’s rhetoric on how Hong Kong is degenerating into quasi anarchy, many people are still happy to spend a night in theaters screening productions from across the border, including the latest sci-fi comedy flick from the local mogul Stephen Chow Sing-chi.

It’s reassuring news to the Hong Kong entertainment industry which is desperate for further inroads into the massive Chinese market.

With 1.15 million screenings nationwide, The Mermaid, Chow’s latest smash hit, has grossed a record-setting 2.8 billion yuan in China within the span of less than two weeks since its opening in the country.

As of now, the box-office collections have been nearing 3 billion, Xinhua reports.

In another case, From Vegas to Macau III — the third installment in the trilogy – reaped more than one billion yuan in mainland ticket sales even though the movie hasn’t received critical acclaim.

The action comedy franchise, featuring a star-studded ensemble cast of local celebrities such as Chow Yun-fat, Andy Lau Tak-wah, Jacky Cheung Hok-yau, Carina Lau Kar-ling and Shawn Yue Man-lok, has raked in 2.5 billion yuan from Chinese audiences within the past two years.

The Monkey King 2 has also hauled in over 1 billion yuan not too long after its opening week.

Even though China’s homegrown productions have started to carve their own niche, no mainland directors — including names like Zhang Yimou (張藝謀), Feng Xiaogang (馮小剛) and Jiang Wen (姜文) — have been able to scale the height of their Hong Kong counterparts in Chinese cinemas.

For long, Hong Kong filmmakers had been accused of treading the old path to lure audiences with themes nothing more than kung fu, gangsters, zombies or old-time fiction.

Critics said the old tricks were failing to strike a chord with the younger generation in the face of the special visual effects bombardment by Hollywood sci-fi genres and the rise of China’s indigenous films.

Now, the ongoing show of Mojo — as illustrated by the three latest Hong Kong productions — has erased the ignominy and offered proof that our movies still command a cult following north of the border.

Some commentators say it’s time for the mainland audience to “return an obligation” to directors like Chow and Wong Jing, director of the From Vegas to Macau series, as most Chinese had in the past watched their films on pirated videotapes or VCDs or via unauthorized video hosting websites.

The huge potential on the mainland, already the world’s second largest market as measured by box-office receipts, has prompted Hong Kong talents, with their capital and storytelling nous, to go northward to build a presence.

This explains a decline in “pure” productions solely invested and produced within the territory. Like many others, all the three latest Hong Kong blockbusters involve mainland actors and distributors.

It makes for a profitable business model, while also extending Hong Kong’s influence further in the mainland.

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EJ Insight writer

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