After being badly hit by the pandemic in recent years, the Hong Kong film industry has rebounded in the second half of this year, with some Hong Kong productions cracking the top ten Chinese-language films at the Hong Kong box office.
Some academics think that besides “revenge spending” after the easing of pandemic measures, Hong Kongers using their support of local film as a means of bolstering Hong Konger identity and political expression in the aftermath of the national security law could also be a reason for the film's success.
The Hong Kong film industry — once called the Hollywood of the East — is showing signs of recovery as box office takings rise in the second half of this year, particularly for Hong Kong-made films.
Award-winning actor Louis Koo invested HK$450 million (US$57.3 million) and years of effort in producing Hong Kong’s first sci-fi film, Warriors of Future (《明日战记》). The film raked in box office takings of over HK$58 million between its opening on 25 August and 16 September, beating blockbusters such as Infernal Affairs (《无间道》) and CJ7 (《长江7号》), and ranking seventh on the top ten list of Chinese-language films in history at the Hong Kong box office.
During media interviews, Koo thanked the supporters and said, “Frankly, when it comes to the box office, higher numbers are definitely better, and it shows that new film genres can come out of Hong Kong. But I am ecstatic that many Hong Kong films are doing so well in the second half of this year, which is what everyone wants.”
Aside from Warriors of Future, many Hong Kong films have recently become hits. For example, Table for Six (《饭戏攻心》) — directed by Sunny Chan and starring Dayo Wong, Louis Cheung and Ivana Wong — was initially scheduled for release during Chinese New Year this year, but the fifth Covid-19 wave in Hong Kong led to cinemas closures, delaying its release until 7 September.
The movie raked in HK$1.58 million on opening day, making it the opening day box office champion among Hong Kong comedies this year, and the highest-grossing Hong Kong movie opening on a working Wednesday since Hong Kong’s opening up.
On 12 September, Ming Pao reported that Table for Six became a hit, with box office takings exceeding HK$15 million in six days, the fastest Hong Kong comedy to reach that milestone this year.
As for Chilli Laugh Story (《阖家辣》) — produced by Sandra Ng and starring Edan Lui of Hong Kong boy band Mirror — it has taken in HK$32.1 million over the summer break after opening on 14 July, making it the top grossing Hong Kong film of the summer and ranking third in summer box office takings, after Hollywood hits Thor: Love and Thunder, and Minions 2.
Mama’s Affair (《阿妈有咗第二个》), starring Mirror members Keung To and Jer Lau, alongside award-winner Teresa Mo, also performed well at the box office after opening on 11 August, ranking fifth in summer box office takings, earning about HK$33 million so far.
Without the traditional baggage of the previous generation of directors, the newcomers have produced films that are more diverse and relatable, contributing to their increasing popularity.
Less competition and revenge spending
Veteran cineaste Lam Wan-Wa with over a decade of experience in Hong Kong’s film distribution industry told Zaobao that numerous Hong Kong films have enjoyed greater popularity in Hong Kong in recent years partly due to the Hong Kong government’s support for the film industry.
For example, the Hong Kong government implemented the First Feature Film Initiative a few years ago to support and nurture new film directors and producers, injecting new blood into the industry. Without the traditional baggage of the previous generation of directors, the newcomers have produced films that are more diverse and relatable, contributing to their increasing popularity.
Also, as a result of the ongoing pandemic, fewer movies are being produced in Hollywood and mainland China, which means fewer releases in Hong Kong. The reduced competition makes it easier for Hong Kong films to gain success.
Lam said, “Promoting foreign films in Hong Kong amid the pandemic has been difficult. Furthermore, Hong Kongers have not been able to travel abroad and can only spend locally on movies or other activities. This has created an opportunity for Hong Kong films.”
Chan Wai-keung, lecturer at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Hong Kong Community College, also told Zaobao that the recent popularity of Hong Kong films in Hong Kong is pandemic related.
When the fifth Covid-19 wave hit Hong Kong between January and April this year, the Hong Kong government closed all cinemas. By the time Hong Kong authorities relaxed anti-epidemic measures and reopened cinemas in the latter half of the year, many Hong Kongers engaged in “revenge spending” and flocked to the cinemas. Hence, Hong Kong films released during that time performed well at the box office.
Notably, more netizens are also taking to the internet to urge Hong Kongers to support Hong Kong films.
Rallying support for Hong Kong films
Notably, more netizens are also taking to the internet to urge Hong Kongers to support Hong Kong films. For example, after Warriors of Future performed poorly in mainland China, many Hong Kong netizens, including pro-democracy personalities, expressed their support for the movie and urged Hong Kongers to do the same, and prove to the outside world that Hong Kong is also capable of producing world-class sci-fi films.
Chan pointed out that Hong Kong netizens in the “yellow” or pro-democracy camp unanimously launching a movement to support Warriors of Future is also due to Hong Kong’s political atmosphere in recent years.
Two years after the implementation of the Hong Kong national security law, Hong Kongers who support “local” do not dare to express their political demands directly. Instead, some of them have taken indirect approaches such as supporting local film productions to express their dissatisfaction with the current political situation.
Taking Hong Kong boy group Mirror as an example, Chan pointed out that the group rose to fame and enjoys great popularity among Hong Kongers because all of its members were born in Hong Kong. Among four of Hong Kong’s best-performing films, two are starred by Mirror members. He believes that in the long term, Beijing should reconsider its Hong Kong policy, keeping popular sentiment in mind to solve Hong Kong’s problems.
Related: From Hong Kong movies to Greater Bay Area movies: A new Hollywood of the East in making? | [Photo Story] Hong Kong was once the Hollywood of the East | Mulan: The people-pleaser that ended up offending all? | The fight against Omicron reveals Hong Kong’s disunity | Has Hong Kong been half-hearted about its 'zero-Covid' policy?