Once-vibrant Hong Kong cinema is on its way out!

Here is a very interesting piece on the state of the Hong Kong filmmaking industry from Yahoo, which we feel is very saddening, but infromative.

By Carrie Lee

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s once booming movie industry — one of the world’s biggest — faces extinction as video piracy and recession take their toll. Gone are the days when avid film buffs swarmed at cinemas and movies spun money for their makers. “The Hong Kong film industry will disappear in one or two years unless something is done,” said Woody Tsung, chief executive of the Motion Picture Industry Association (MPIA).

The industry started downhill in the early 1990s when major investors backed off in the face of rising copyright piracy.

“Since the Taiwanese have stopped investing in or buying the copyright for Hong Kong movies at very high prices… there’s not too much money coming in from Taiwan,” award-winning
director Anne Hui said.

Taiwan money had funded at least half of the industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she said.

The figures are striking.

Hong Kong made 86 movies last year, a fifth of the 426 produced in 1993, according to the Anti-Piracy Alliance. The industry employs just 5,000 people now, down from 30,000 in

Local box offices saw Hong Kong movies reap a paltry HK$412 million (US$53.16 million) in 1998, compared with HK$776 million in 1995 and over HK$1 billion in 1993, according
to MPIA.

The industry’s fading glamour has also dimmed the careers of its stars. Now, besides making far fewer films, they have turned to other fields, such as drama, television, radio or business.


Copyright piracy, meaning bootleg movies, is at the heart of the problem. The widespread sale of pirated video compact discs has drawn audiences away from the big screen or genuine

“Copyright piracy has reached such serious proportions that our industries are on the verge of collapse,” said Rigo Jesu, managing director of Intercontinental Film Distributors (HK).

Bootleg editions flood Hong Kong, with shops and hawkers selling VCDs of the latest local and Hollywood movies for as little as HK$100 ($13) for six.

By contrast, a movie ticket costs about HK$50.

“The main problem is piracy,” said the MPIA’s Tsung. “The piracy wave has destroyed the operation of the film industry, seriously hurting production and distribution.

Nine out of 10 films are losing money,”“ he said.

”When this industry is hit by piracy, investors are all put off because film making is not profitable any more. With no investors, no movies, how can the industry develop?“

Hollywood studios have threatened to stop bringing in their latest blockbusters unless piracy is brought under control.

And in March, Hong Kong’s 73 movie houses closed for a day in an attempt to prod the government into action.

Making a bad situation worse, Hong Kong’s economy began to sour in late 1997 amid Asia’s financial crisis, which hit shortly after the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule.

”There is no money around for investment… because of the economic slump,“ director Hui said. The fall of some Southeast Asian currencies also hit industry revenues from those


With the industry in the doldrums, top members of the Hong Kong film industry, such as actors Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-fat and director John Woo, now spend more time in

In a vicious cycle, the talent drain reduces the incentive for audiences to watch local movies. If the decline continues, more industry professionals will seek work overseas.

”I think that’s natural. If they can’t find a job here, obviously you will try to find a job somewhere else,“ Hui said.

Foreign films also make life tougher for local film-makers.

In 1998, foreign films released in Hong Kong snatched HK$544 million in box office receipts, compared with the HK$412 million raised by local films.

Some movie critics also blame the local industry’s plight on declining film quality in the years ahead of Hong Kong’s 1997 reversion to Chinese rule, as producers looked for a fast buck.

”Too many producers turned out too many mediocre movies in the five-year run-up to the handover, aided and abetted by directors, writers, actors and journalists who did little but take
the money and run,’ critic Tony Rayns wrote recently.


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