Film making is undeniably as much of a political and financial venture as it is an expressive art form. In outlets such as the Udine Far East Film Festival
, films are not only selected and categorized by cinematic genres but act as representations of the changing culture within their country of origin.
The conflict between cinematic content that can be commercially popular and individual stories that can offer a unique perspective can be clearly seen in recent cinematic relations between Hong Kong and mainland China. This issue has a particular significance in relation to Hong Kong’s declining film industry, or as some have already proclaimed, “the death of independent Hong Kong cinema”.
Two films from Hong Kong, Gallants (2010) and La Comedie Humaine (2010) received their international premier at this year’s festival (whilst not yet released to their local audience) and have been described by a festival spokesperson as: “representing part of an interesting trend in Hong Kong cinema right now that is seeing filmmakers of mid-budget films move back towards local themes.”
Gallants directors Derek Kwok and Clement Cheng joined Chapman To, respected actor and producer of La Comedie Humaine, for a panel discussion about the future of independent, Cantonese-language films, and whether they can co-exist with the cinema of mainland China without compromising artistic vision or the freedom of content.
Many new films produced in Hong Kong are financed by mainland Chinese Industries and with Hong Kong’s population at only seven million, mainland China has become their predominant external market. Chapman To believes that “Hong Kong people don’t go to the cinema anymore and there are lots of reasons for this– so we have to make films that aim to the China market.” In the same vein he emphasized that “Without the China market, maybe the budget [for local films] is not that high, but we have freedom and that’s why I like it.”
For young directors such a Kwok and Cheng, having an industry megastar like Andy Lau produce their first film Gallants offered some relief from the burdens of financial uncertainty facing independent filmmakers: (Derek Kwok) “For Andy Lau, he didn’t just invest in a movie, he gives a lot of freedom for the young directors to develop their ideas and realize their project.” Clement Cheng: “Even though a lot of people say that [film] financing in Hong Kong is quite difficult now, actually if you want to make a movie then it depends on your scale; if you want to make a smaller movie there are still possibilities but you have to stand firm [because] even though the market may not be that favorable there may be other factors to take into account.”
Both Kwok and Cheng’s deliberate decision to speak in Cantonese speaks volumes about the determination of Hong Kong directors to promote their unique national identity through their films. Cheng used a recent discussion the pair had with Hong Kong director Patrick Lung Kong to illustrate the specific importance of this feature in capturing the spirit of Hong Kong culture. Cheng: “In the 60’s when he [Lung Kong] was making films himself, Cantonese language films were falling whereas there was a rise in movies that were spoken in Mandarin. Since then fifty years have passed and we are facing that problem today. He said to us: As long as Cantonese as a language is going to be spoken, there will be Cantonese films made and so Hong Kong Cinema will not disappear.”
However, Lung Kong’s final statement could equally be viewed as an attempt to calm outside concerns that tensions over target markets, financing and cultural differences will inhibit the continuation of great Hong Kong cinema: “There are two types of films and it doesn’t matter what language they are in; there are only good films and bad films.”
Nadia Baird (CUEAFS)