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Hong Kong auteurs ready to roll on coproductions

By Honey Tsang | China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-16 07:57

Collaborations with the Chinese mainland are all the rage in the city's movie industry, whose comedy and action brands are drawing audiences on both sides of the border, as Honey Tsang reports from Hong Kong.

Hong Kong auteurs ready to roll on coproductions

The on-and-off courtships, witty banter and ribald puns exchanged between a couple in the rom-com Love off the Cuff is currently tickling viewers' fancies across the border.

The movie stars Hong Kong's Miriam Yeung Chin-wah and Shawn Yue Man-lok as the sparring sweethearts. Directed by local auteur Pang Ho-cheung and coproduced with mainland companies, it's the second movie in Pang's Love in a Puff series. It gave Pang by far his most lucrative opening day of all his movies - raking in more than HK$1.8 million ($231,000) in ticket sales when it premiered on April 27.

While Hong Kong moviegoers guffaw at Pang's Cantonese wordplay, crowds in the Chinese mainland - undeterred by the colloquial differences - are also enamored of the gags. The movie took more than 172 million yuan ($25.3 million) in ticket sales during its 17-day screening period in mainland theaters.

Love off the Cuff represents one of the many Hong Kong-mainland coproductions that have lately pulled in hefty receipts and made hay across the border.

In recent years, the commingling of China's movie markets has accelerated. The inclination of Hong Kong's filmmakers to serve mainland audiences has been fueled by the mainland's rapidly growing film market, which is now the world's second-largest in terms of box-office receipts and is forecast to overtake the United States in a few years.

Last year, a record 89 Hong Kong pictures were granted coproduction permits - a rise of 11 percent from 2015 - by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, the government body responsible for regulating policies on Chinese coproductions.

Altogether, 54 joint cross-border films were produced last year, a huge step up from the pre-2004 annual average of 10 titles.

Hong Kong-mainland productions have often fared well in mainland theaters, with many achieving nationwide blockbuster status. Last year, seven of the top 20 blockbusters in the Chinese mainland were joint ventures with Hong Kong.

Comedy vehicles always have the potential to be hits with mainland audiences, according to Tam Yee-lok, lecturer and program director of the Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing for Film, Television and New Media at the Hong Kong Baptist University, who has analyzed the city's movie industry for decades.

Annual mainland box-office receipts appear to indicate such a preference. Of the seven cross-border films screened last year, The Mermaid, a huge comedy hit directed by Stephen Chow, was the highest-grossing coproduction, earning 3.4 billion yuan.

"In the Chinese mainland, there's a growing middle class. Most of them go for comedies, which have been a strong suit for Hong Kong filmmakers," Tam said.

Reel change

For decades, Hong Kong had one of the most potent cinema industries in the world. It was at its peak in the 1980s and early 1990s. According to Tam, the good times started to fade after the release of the Hollywood megahit Jurassic Park in 1993. It was a time when Hong Kong producers began to see themselves as being pitted against Hollywood.

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