Now, with concerns growing about Beijing’s increasing influence on Hong Kong, some filmmakers are defying commercial and political pressures to produce homegrown movies with a local voice — and inject new life into the city’s cinema scene.
Hong Kong once pumped out at least 200 films a year, from Bruce Lee’s 1973 “Enter the Dragon” to Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love” in 2000, via countless cop and gangster thrillers.
But in the past decade the local industry has slumped and just dozens of films are now produced in Hong Kong annually.
One major factor is the booming Chinese movie sector, offering both experienced directors and recent graduates more money and opportunities.
Yet for some the pendulum now seems to be swinging back, as the desire for freedom of expression outweighs mainland mega-bucks.
“With new films, everyone asks: ‘Could it be released in China? Can you cooperate with the Chinese side?’ That’s how (investors) earn back their money,” says Hong Kong director Derek Chiu, 54, who has a string of local feature films under his belt and has worked on the mainland.
He says he has struggled to find backers for his forthcoming drama “Chung Ying Street,” which focuses on riots against British colonial rule before leaping to the present-day protest movement.
Chiu says Hong Kong and mainland bodies have rejected his funding applications. A private backer has also pulled out over concerns his investment could impact his business interests in China, he says.
“Maybe if I do ‘Chung Ying Street’ I cannot work in China. But I will not give up this one,” Chiu told AFP.
“I need some creative control and freedom, and China cannot provide that.”