Local films catching 'Fire' in HK

Hong Kong cast, director, financing combine in two new films

HONG KONG -- Organizers of the upcoming Hong Kong International Film Festival on Tuesday previewed an action thriller filled with daredevil stunts and a romance between two smokers, touting a renaissance in the local movie industry as it struggles to compete with the output of neighboring China.

The two films -- "Fire of Conscience" and "Love in a Puff" -- were fully financed by the same Hong Kong production company and shot in Hong Kong by local directors with a largely local cast, a rarity at a time when China is churning out big-budget historical epics and imperial dramas, often drawing Hong Kong talent to help make them.

And both showcase this former British colony's skyscraper-filled landscape and its hybrid East-meets-West culture that separates the territory from the rest of China, Hong Kong International Film Festival Artistic Director Li Cheuk-to said.

The directors and casts of the films met the press ahead of their world premieres at the Hong Kong festival, which starts March 21.

Dante Lam's $4.5 million production "Fire of Conscience" follows the relationship between a street-wise police officer (Leon Lai) and his higher-ranked, more politically savvy colleague (Richie Jen). Pang Ho-cheung's $1.3 million "Love in a Puff" is about a couple (Shawn Yue and Miriam Yeung) who meet during smoking breaks in alleys behind the office buildings they work in.

"Fire of Conscience" features the kind of over-the-top stunt sequences that gained Hong Kong action cinema world renown, including a gunfight in a traditional Hong Kong teahouse and an explosion in a neighborhood packed with high-rise buildings, Lam said.

"You will only see such a densely populated city in Hong Kong movies. But unlike in the West, where they clear an area for shooting, we shoot in a crowded neighborhood that's carrying on as usual," he said.

"These are the kinds of action films that Hong Kong does best. Action movies in Hollywood involve a lot of money and special effects. Hong Kong films are made by putting your life on the line. They are exhausting and very dangerous," Li said.

Meanwhile, Li praised Pang for breaking new ground by making an unusually down-to-earth Hong Kong romance.

"This is a very uniquely Hong Kong situation. There was an indoor smoking ban and Hong Kong people react this way and behave this way. They use this specific kind of foul language that only Hong Kongers use," he said.

Out of the 24 world premieres at the Hong Kong festival, which runs from March 21 to April 6, eight are productions that were mainly funded in Hong Kong _ double the number from last year, according to Li.

Lam said he believes there is still demand for the distinct flair that Hong Kong cinema brings.

"Hong Kong-style action movies have always occupied a place in the world market. Mainland audiences are the same as audiences around the world. They see the culture of Hong Kong movies," he said. "So they want to see movies with Hong Kong characteristics. I don't think they want to watch 15 to 20 historical dramas a year."
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