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Hong Kong Filmart: Local Industry Embraces Sex Comedies

China Lion

Enticed by the unexpected success of racy fare like "Vulgaria" and "Due West," producers are rushing to cash in on a craze for crassness at the Hong Kong box office.

Once they flocked to concoct martial arts dramas; then they bowed at the altar of the trigger-happy gangster genre. Now local producers have discovered the next big moneymaker: Welcome to Hong Kong, the new bastion of sex-obsessed comedies.

Hyperbolic as that might seem, it’s a fair assessment given the roster of raunchy projects making their bows at Filmart this year.

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On Monday, China 3D – from the filmmakers who brought the world the first stereoscopic soft-porn movie Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy -- will unveil Due West 2: Our Sex Vacation, a sequel to its 2012 hit about the carnal adventures of a young Hong Kong couple in mainland China.

Later in the afternoon, Mei Ah Entertainment -- which struck gold with Lan Kwai Fong, a diptych about young nocturnal partygoers entangling themselves in messy relationships in one of the city’s busiest nightspots -- will host a press conference launching Hardcore Comedy, a project which boasts of “mixing prostitution, drugs and sex.”

The title of Derek Kwok Tsz-kin’s film is an obvious play on Crass Comedy, the Chinese name of Pang Ho-cheung’s Vulgaria, a witty story of Hong Kong filmmakers struggling to bring their projects to fruition -- with plenty of foul-mouthed, sex-related gags.

Because of such risque content, the film was made with access to the mainland Chinese market essentially ruled out. But Pang still managed to generate a handsome profit in Hong Kong: made on a reported budget of just $1.03 million (HK$8 million), the film took $3.9 million (HK$30.1 million) at the box office, making it the second highest-grossing Chinese-language film in the city in 2012, behind the police thriller Cold War. (Due West, meanwhile, also took $2.6 million/HK$20 million).

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More than just a commercial success, Vulgaria has also become a symbol of defiance for Hong Kong filmgoers demanding local content that dares to broach the no-go topics forbidden by mainland China’s strict censorship regime.

Now based in Beijing, where he’s developing projects palatable to the mainland’s film regulators, Pang will be back in Hong Kong and Filmart on Wednesday to present SDU: Sex Duties Unit, which follows members of an elite police squadron as they go to Macau for what they hope to be a free-wheeling, copulation-heavy holiday.

Fred Tsui, assistant general manager of the film’s backers Media Asia, is quick to distance SDU from the other Vulgaria knock-offs emerging in the market today.

“There is indeed a trend of crass films,” he said. “Although part of the cast of SDU overlaps with Vulgaria, the focus of SDU is not on vulgarity or crassness, but deriving humor from the set up and situation."

“It is something that Pang has done before in his AV (2005) [about a group of young men using the excuse of making a porn movie to get close to a Japanese porn actress] in pushing boundaries.”

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Veteran director-producer Gordon Chan Ka-seung said he does not see Vulgaria as simply trading in crassness for cash. “Mainland audiences are talking about this film because there’s humor with a different, Hong Kong edge -- it signifies a sense of freedom,” he said.

By rushing to cash in on this desire for vulgarity, however, local producers are running a big risk, said a producer who declined to be named.

“It’s a problem of sustainability,” said the producer. “If someday censorship of this kind of content is relaxed on the mainland, where will we be left -- without the edge to distinguish us?”

Karen Chu contributed to this report.