Sunday, February 21, 2010

Good times for Hong Kong cinema

A sight to cherish -- not least for its rarity:
nothing but local movies screening
multiple times at this Hong Kong cinema

"Hong Kong cinema is one of the success stories of film history. For about twenty years, this city-state of around six million people had one of the most robust cinema industries in the world. In number of films released, it regularl surpassed nearly all Western countries. In export it was second only to the United States... Not until the fateful year 1997 did Hollywood edge out the local product [in Hong Kong], claiming slightly over half of the admission receipts..."

The above words are to found on the first page of the first chapter of David Bordwell's Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment (Harvard University Press, 2000). And although they seem to belie it, their author did in fact realize full well even then -- and increasingly in the 21st century -- that "the Hong Kong film industry is struggling to survive" (like he wrote in the same now sadly out of print book's Preface).

As I implied a few weeks ago, 2009 was by no means a banner year for Hong Kong cinema. But if this cinema is dying, it's not going to go down without a fight. And most notably during the Chinese New Year period which, this year, sees way more Hong Kong movies released than has been the case in a good long while.

Before a bout of flu temporarily laid waste to me, I managed to catch and enjoy 72 Tenants of Prosperity (directed by Eric Tsang and starring him, Jacky Cheung, Anita Yuen and a whole host of others), All's Well Ends Well 2010 (Raymond Wong back to his Chinese New Year comedy antics -- this time sharing helming duties with Herman Yau and screen time with Louis Koo, Sandra Ng and Angelababy among others) and Hot Summer Days (more Valentine's Day than Chinese New Year fare but since they both fell on the same day this year, I'm counting it among the festive fare).

And although a friend has managed to convince me not to go and see 14 Blades, he and Christine To still can't totally combat my curiosity to see how bad True Legend is (together with my hope that a movie directed by Yuen Wo Ping and starring Chiu Man Cheuk and Zhou Xun can't be completely bad). In fact, I have a date with another friend to see it some time in the next few days now that I seem to have slowly but surely recovered from my bout of flu! Oh, and call me a masochist but yeah, I'll probably go and watch Jackie Chan's latest too -- no, not that Hollywood monstrosity I've been hearing about but, rather, Little Big Soldier) when it is released in cinemas next week.

Actually, maybe it's more like paying some dues. As yes, amidst it all, I can never forget that if it weren't for its cinema, I would never have come to love Hong Kong so much -- to the point that I made it my ambition to be able to find a job that would enable me to move and live here... So while I have a chance to support it, I will.


Glenn, kenixfan said...

I want to hear more of your thoughts on 72 Tenants. As it's a remake of a local classic -- it is a remake right? -- and it's got that all star cast -- including the much-missed Anita Yuen -- I am very eager to see it.

YesAsia has it up for pre-order already for US customers but I think I'll wait until I get there in April to find it in shops (assuming it hits shops that fast).

As for 14 Blades: I still want to see it despite any bad reviews.

And True Legend? The pictures I saw from the film had me worried.

When does Crossing Hennessey come out? The trailer was shown at Christmas.

Diana said...

I am looking forward to seeing 72 Tenants. I saw the original after I learned it was referenced in Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle. But in this version I would know more of the cast so I think it would be more engaging for me--at least I hope so.

Are you feeling better?

YTSL said...

Hi Glenn --

"72 Tenants of Prosperity" isn't a remake so much as an imagining of what happens to some of the tenants a few decades down the road -- and has Eric and Jacky playing rival store owners who both have a soft spot in their heart for the woman played by Anita Yuen.

I liked it a lot for its local flavor -- which might work against it if you're not familiar with local news events as well as entertainment folks. But, then, again, I like Hong Kong movies that were really local even when I lived in the U.S. So it might travel better than conventional wisdom might make one think.

Re "True Legend": Have seen the trailers and really only the Jay Chou bits look lame to me. Am trying to go in with low expectations but some hope...

No idea re when "Crossing Hennessy" will come out. It does look good, doesn't it? :)

Hi Diana --

Hope you enjoy the 2010 "72 Tenants" should you even eventually watch it. And yes, I'm feeling better -- thanks. Still tired but coughing and sneezing far less than now. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm hoping to catch the CNY films when I'm in HK, as well as True Legend. I also discovered that KJ is playing at the Broadway Cinematheque!

Diana said...

I will see it, YTSL, just not in the near future. I have to start renting from one of those online dvd rentals that specialize in Asian films again. Netflix is just too slow and not as comprehensive as I would like on HK films especially. Maybe after my trip to HK in June I will do that again.

YTSL said...

Hi duriandave --

You're in luck. All those films should still be playing when you get here... and yes, I really recommend that you catch KJ while you can. :)

Hi again Diana --

Maybe when you're here in June, you can amass your own stash of DVDs. Many movies, including some 2009 releases and also classics like Ringo Lam's "School on Fire", you will find, sell for less than HK$30 a DVD at local video stores like Original or Wide Sight. ;b

Brian said...

Always nice to hear an optimistic voice out there. Let's hope this year is the beginning of the comeback - but to do that we are going to have to see some new talent in front of and behind the camera. Where is the next Maggie, Brigitte, Tony or Andy going to come from I wonder.

YTSL said...

Hi Brian --

I have to admit that I can't see a dawn of another golden age of Hong Kong cinema any time soon. At the same time, I am cautiously optimistic that 2010 will bring more and better movies in general than 2009 at the very least.

As for new talent in front of and behind the camera: Yes, alas... there is that. At the same time, I do get the sense that certain talents that may have been overshadowed in the past by others may latterly be coming into their own.

Also, I think it worth bearing in mind that people who have been around a while like Nicholas Tse and Shawn Yue are, in fact, not even 30 years old yet! And for those who haven't heard yet: Maggie actually has appeared in a 2010 Hong Kong movie ("Hot Summer Days") and Faye Wong's working again!!! :)

Quickroute said...

14 blades was not bad at all - a little drawn out in parts but good combo of storyline and action - 6.5 out of 10

YTSL said...

Hi Quickroute --

Nice to hear some support for a local movie -- and you've encouraged me to put 14 Blades back on the list of movies to possibly check out. I have a lot of time for Zhou Wei and like Kate Tsui too. So maybe I will manage to enjoy the movie when I do watch it. :)

Diana said...

True YTSL, I can add to my dvd collection while I am there, especially if they are so cheap. I hadn't thought of that!

YTSL said...

Hi again Diana --

Not all the DVDs are (that) cheap but it definitely is worth DVD hunting and shopping when you're in Hong Kong. :)

Diana said...

No matter, YTSL, part of the fun will be in the pursuit. I really like the idea of shopping for dvds while I am there. I am not much of a shopper, designer clothes/shoes don't fit me so they are no draw for me, and why buy the designer bags if you aren't wearing the others? I am thinking that shopping is a good opportunity to use my Cantonese and what better way than about films, which is how I fell in love with HK in the first place.

YTSL said...

Hi once again Diana --

"I am thinking that shopping is a good opportunity to use my Cantonese..."

I think this will particularly be the case if/when you go shop at street markets. :)