Hong Kong Cinema: Eject! Eject! Eject!

Vision Blurring in the Hutong
Praying for Rain, Snow, or Wind
0115 hrs.

A barely noticed article in the SCMP on Halloween noted that production in Hong Kong’s film industry in 2006 will drop to a mere 40 films, down from 62 in 2004 and 50 this year.

While the article suggests the cause of Hong Kong’s decline is a surge in South Korea’s film industry, given that the reportage came out of a conference in South Korea, I’m inclined to read a bit of self-congratulation in that analysis. The truth is probably a lot simpler and, in many ways, less comfortable for the Hong Kong industry.

The ugly, unspoken truth about Hong Kong cinema is that when it comes to developing new markets for it’s product the industry has spent the last three decades resting on its collective laurels.

Since the mid-1970s, U.S., Korean, Japanese, Mainland, and even Indian film studios have been working to build global markets and develop “crossover” movies that will draw international audiences. Hong Kong, meanwhile, has only been too happy to continue to crank out productions with strong local appeal but an almost conscious disregard of international tastes. Films from the mainland, the U.S., and elsewhere began creeping into Hong Kong’s shrinking number of theaters and the territory was (finally) wired with cable, shrinking the local market. The better directors and stars have at least partially decamped to the U.S. and the mainland, where they find not only better financing regimes, craftspeople, and facilities, but also a global stage for their work.

Hong Kong cinema fell into its navel 20 years ago and hasn’t lifted its head out since. It’s sad, but it stands as a warning to any company that pins its future on Hong Kong somehow remaining more than just another Chinese city, albeit a well-developed one.