Thursday, March 1, 2007

"'The Departed''s Hong Kong Creation"

The following is a rough translation of an editorial that appeared in Hong Kong's Ming Pao on February 28th. It's written by Anthony Fung, an Assistant professor in the Communication and Broadcasting department at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and I think it's mostly bullshit (more on the why later). Remember, I didn't write this article.

Here it is:

"The Departed" became the big winner at the Oscars. Some are happy and some are sad. Those that are happy believe that a remake of a Hong Kong film can succeed internationally is credit to Hong Kong film's creativity. Those that are sad believe that no matter how fresh the script and the concept of "Infernal Affairs" is, it can only succeed in Hong Kong, and never succeed in the huge American market. On the other hand, it succeeds when the same script reaches Hollywood, angering the Hong Kong filmmakers who have worked so hard. The latter complains that the Hong Kong market is far too small. Even a flawless Hong Kong script and Hong Kong crew cannot achieve much.

I understand their sentiments. I feel that their opinions are the result of not having adapted the consequences of change. A question worth asking is: In this globalized market, should we continue making these "Hong Kong products?" Do these local productions of "Hong Kong films" made for Hong Kong people still exist?

Those who are still in love with the era of "Hong Kong films" should first ask themselves whether any pure local films still exists. The truth is these days, whether Hollywood films are made up of American films are not even a sure thing. First, talented actors in Hollywood now originate from everywhere. Many of them are from outside America, such as England's Hugh Grant, even Jean Reno isn't American. Chow Yun-Fat, Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li have all made it to Hollywood. Hong Kong's John Woo directed "Mission: Impossible" II and III. Is this type of internationalized or melting pot of Hollywood films America?

From the region of production, we also get an answer. Now Hollywood films are rarely made in Hollywood, because production cost in England are far cheaper than production costs in America. Now many Hollywood films are no longer made at home. The most well-known example is the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, which was made in New Zealand. Even if it's an American film, many production crew are from overseas. Since Hollywood films are not even pure American films, why should a small city such as Hong Kong pursue these pure "Hong Kong films?"

The truth is, in a globalized world, film financing is no longer from their countries of origin. Film money are now from everywhere, and it no longer matters where they come from. Many recent Hong Kong successes are foreign-financed, but no one seem to suspect that these "Hong Kong films" have any foreign influence. "Kung Fu Hustle" is a good example, who says that Stephen Chiau's films are not the pride of Hong Kong?

I think now it's time to change our way of thinking. Hong Kong is only a special region of China, that is a truth solid as steel. If we give up our stubbornly-kept mentality of "Hong Kong products" and look far ahead, don't local films already have a huge market in China? If we hear Beijing people saying they must make "Beijing films" or Shanghai people making "Shanghai films," won't we think it's laughable? Some estimate there are only 100,000 frequent filmgoers in Hong Kong. Even during holidays when families go to the movies, Hong Kong films only make tens of millions (in Hong Kong dollars). If we put down our baggage and go into the Chinese market, won't we be able to share the 300 million renmibi that "Curse of the Golden Flower" made?

To develop Hong Kong films, why not look towards the north? It's better than reminiscing about old times. Perhaps some recent successes have started to mature. Recent successful Chinese films such as "Hero" and "A Battle of Wits" are made with Hong Kong financing and actors. Even the Andy Lau-financed "Crazy Stone" is made to penetrate the Chinese market.

Regarding The Departed, some people may hold a grudge due to the fact that Hollywood used Hong Kong "creativity" to reach international success. But doesn't Hong Kong often borrow from others' creativity as well? Alan Tam and Leslie Cheung often sang covers of Japanese pop songs in the 80s, and aren't those songs now Hong Kong pop classics? Even today, aren't many television programs such as "Who Want to be a Millionaire" made from Western creativity? Now that Hollywood has decided to buy remakes rights from Hong Kong scripts to make its own legends, it's merely a strategy Hong Kong has always used, so what's so special about that?

Lastly, I think that now Hong Kong still has creativity, they should seize the day and focus on internationalizing certain aspects of filmmaking. If Hong Kong continues to hold this "Hong Kong product" mentality, then Korean, Japanese, and Chinese filmmakers will quickly dominate the global film industry, adding to the impact on the Hong Kong film industry.

These last few years, the Hong Kong Film Festival seem to spotlight these "only in Hong Kong" triad films. Surely, these "Hong Kong products" have a local market. Certainly, if box office gross is a standard for success, then these local "Hong Kong films" can only satisfy a small local market. If they continue to create these "Hong Kong films," I believe that in 30 or 50 years, these "only in Hong Kong" films can only be seen in the Hong Kong Film Festival.

And now, my response:

I agree with the last part, that those who are bitter about Hollywood "stealing" Infernal Affairs are hypocrites. Hong Kong, and the rest of Asia, for that matter, have been stealing Western creativity for decades (and the other way around). In fact, creativity in entertainment has been thrown out of the window for years.

However, I don't think Professor Fung truly understands the film market. Homegrown American stars still by far have the biggest appeal within American markets and abroad as well. Of course, to nit-pick, John Woo only made "Mission: Impossible II," and both his films after that became box office failures, so while John Woo did make it to Hollywood, he got kicked out just as quickly.

Plus, is Professor Fung suggesting that artistic integrity should play no part in the making of Hong Kong films? Hong Kong films have their own type of flavor because many directors such as Johnnie To have no desire to kowtow to Chinese censorship. Commercial filmmaking is important in Hong Kong, yes, but it doesn't mean artists should have to castrate their artistic voices in order to appease unreasonable censorship (look at the recent Lost in Beijing example to see what I mean, or look at the ridiculous alternate ending for Infernal Affairs, or even the history of Zhang Yimou's films before he became a commercial success).

These types of editorials are often dangerous because Professor Fung is obviously a very smart man. But without the proper research, the effects of his misguided words can be damaging. Hong Kong films is what I grew up with, and its audacity to cross the lines and its type of local flavor are what made them successes. If they start appeasing the mainland market now, it would just take away what made them successful in the first place - uniqueness.

1 comment:

munin said...

Actually, John Woo only directed Mission Impossible 2. But yeah I agree with the rest of your article.

In my opinion, as long as Johnnie To still makes HK movies, there will always be a sparkle of life and hope in Hong Kong Cinema. I hope he won't sell out to Hollywood at some point.