24 April 2019
A scene from the hit movie ‘Men on the Dragon’ (inset). The film’s director had to control the production costs during the project, which received funding from the Film Development Fund. Photos: HKEJ, movie publicity shot
A scene from the hit movie ‘Men on the Dragon’ (inset). The film’s director had to control the production costs during the project, which received funding from the Film Development Fund. Photos: HKEJ, movie publicity shot

HK must do more to help local film industry

“Men on the Dragon” (“逆流大叔”), a movie produced by Hong Kong filmmakers, has become a huge hit, grossing HK$12 million at the local box-office so far.

As the fourth locally-produced movie that reaped over HK$10 million this year, it is widely expected that Men on the Dragon will set a new record for Hong Kong movies in recent years.

The film tells the story of a bunch of middle-aged and jaded men whose jobs are on the line, and who, rather accidentally, manage to regain their dignity and find their purpose in life after they have joined a dragon boat team.

The movie has turned out to be such a huge sensation that the term “big uncle” (“大叔”) has become one of the most searched phrases on social media in recent weeks.

The box-office success of Men on the Dragon has cast a new light on the development of the local film industry, with more and more people beginning to ask: how should the Hong Kong movie industry position itself in the face of global competition?

As we all know, filmmaking is a high-risk investment because it is always very difficult to predict the movie taste of the average viewers, thereby making it difficult for investors to accurately forecast the potential investment returns.

Besides, there are a lot of other much more promising investment options available on the financial market, which explains why over the years there hasn’t been much motivation for the local commerce sector to invest in filmmaking.

In comparison, the mainland film market is a lot bigger than ours and mainland movie investors relatively more cash-flush.

As a matter of fact, China’s movie box office has overtaken that of North America in the first quarter of 2018, according to a report in Variety.

At present, Hong Kong filmmakers are allowed access to the vast Chinese movie market in the form of jointly produced motion pictures with their mainland counterparts under the existing framework of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA).

However, although CEPA has presented Hong Kong filmmakers with an enormous market and substantial opportunities for finding investors, all these come at a price: the filmmakers are subject to a lot of restrictions when embarking on joint ventures with their mainland counterparts.

For example, under the provisions of CEPA, mainland actors and actresses must account for at least one-third of the main cast in any joint production by Hong Kong and mainland studios.

True, big local studios as well as famous actors and actresses can benefit from the favorable terms of CEPA and make big bucks by producing and starring in movies that are more to the taste of mainland viewers.

Yet as far as local rookie directors and film projects with a predominantly local theme are concerned, the mainland market and capital provide not much help.

Instead, the major funding source that local budding filmmakers can rely on to propel their projects is the Film Development Fund (FDF) run by the Hong Kong Film Development Council.

However, it has been pointed out that the money that the FDF can offer, in many cases, can’t cover the necessary costs of a low-budget movie project.

Take Men on the Dragon as an example. Even though the FDF had offered nearly HK$4.5 million for the project, the director of the movie, Sunny Chan Wing-sun, has revealed in a media interview that the amount was barely sufficient.

As a result, in order to control the production costs, Chan said they had to axe some of the scenes and characters. Moreover, an actor even agreed to star in the movie for free.

The amount of funding not only dictates the quality of movie production, but is also a determining factor when it comes to attracting talent.

Given that, there is an urgent need for the government to drastically review the current operation of the FDF to find out if it can truly meet the practical needs of the development of the Hong Kong movie industry.

As we can tell from overseas examples, a flourishing and mature movie industry will not only bring in huge box-office revenues, but can also generate a profound and far-reaching ripple effect, in terms of revenues generated from other side businesses arising from the film industry.

Apart from providing sufficient funding, the government should also formulate a thorough and comprehensive development strategy for Hong Kong’s movie industry so as to raise both the standard and the competitiveness of the homegrown productions.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 4

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Member of Legislative Council (Functional Constituency – Accountancy)

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