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This story first appeared in the March 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
These days, everyone wants a piece of the booming Asian film sector. Details differ across the region, but the story arc of the Asian success story is consistent: bigger, faster, more. With the balance of the global box office tilting ever more eastward, practically every film industry in the world is looking to buy in, co-produce and tap financing — and maybe even find the next A-list Asian face. There is no better entry point than Filmart, which runs March 19 to 22. A record 640 exhibitors from 31 countries will set up shop at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, a 10 percent increase from the 2011 tally. The concurrent Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF), where emerging and established filmmakers bring projects to pitch to potential financiers, is also on the rise. “The development of the HAF has been going well over the years,” says Albert Lee, CEO of Hong Kong powerhouse studio Emperor Motion Pictures and one-time HAF director (in 2003). “Quite a number of projects have come to fruition through raising financing at the HAF.” But there’s more to the event than business. The increasingly noteworthy sixth annual Asian Film Awards take place March 19, the two-week Hong Kong International Film Festival kicks off March 21, and the afterparties are known to blur the days — after all, the bars never close in Hong Kong.
♦ Filmart has expanded every year since its establishment 15 years ago, and 2012 is no different. Says Raymond Yip, assistant executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council: “Many of our returning exhibitors are also requesting expansions of their booths. For example, the U.S. Independent Film and Television Alliance is bringing over 40 companies here this year, a 25 percent expansion in scale from last year.”
♦ In 2012, the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum celebrates its 10th year of operation. Be sure to score a ticket to the 10th anniversary bash on opening night, March 19, at Spanish molecular gastronomy maestro Paco Roncero‘s new restaurant, View 62, on the revolving top floor of the Hopewell Centre in Wanchai.
♦ Following the new quota extension allowing an additional 14 Imax and 3D Hollywood movies into its country each year, the China Pavilion again will generate the most hype. The Chinese box office grew by 30 percent in 2011 to $2.06 billion. This year, the Chinese presence at Filmart is responding by expanding in lock step and will be 30 percent bigger than last year.
♦ Daniel Wu, 37, has starred in more than 50 Hong Kong films and is poised to make an East-West breakthrough with a role opposite Russell Crowe in the upcoming kung fu homage The Man With the Iron Fists, which shot in Shanghai and at the famed Hengdian World Studios. He also will appear opposite Kevin Spacey in the China-Hollywood co-production Inseparable and the HKIFF Panorama entry Overheard 2, the sequel to the 2009 hit with frequent Wu co-star Louis Koo.
♦ Co-starring with Keanu Reeves in his $32 million directorial debut Man of Tai Chi, Tiger Chen, 38, also was a member of the kung fu stunt team in The Matrix franchise. Good friend Reeves is giving Chen a chance to show his acting chops in Tai Chi, a co-production of Village Roadshow Asia, China Film Group, Universal and Wanda Media. The producers are eyeing a 2013 release.
Whom to Know
♦ For Hollywood film and TV execs looking to explore new business dealings in mainland China, Ma Li, director general of the International Cooperation Bureau in the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, is a very good person to cozy up to. She of the near-endless official state title is charged with managing partnerships with China’s international entertainment industry counterparts.
♦ Wang Zhongjun, who has been called the Harvey Weinstein of Asia, founded and heads Huayi Brothers Media. Huayi has produced some of China’s biggest hits, including Kung Fu Hustle and Aftershock, which was China’s highest-grossing domestic film of all time until Zhang Yimou‘s Flowers of War took the top spot.
♦ HKIFF opener Love in the Buff is a sequel to the 2010 box-office hit Love in a Puff from local director Pang Ho Cheung. Miriam Yeung and Shawn Yue star in the tale of former lovers who rekindle their relationship. The first film was deemed too racy for China, but with a mainland Chinese release stamped for approval, the sequel has a chance to make a much bigger box-office splash.
♦ Thai director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang‘s visceral assassin thriller Headshot gets its Asian debut at the HKIFF on April 4. Picked up for North American distribution by indie Kino Lorber, the film stars Jayanama Nopachai as a hired gun whose world turns upside down after he’s shot in the head during a hit gone wrong.
♦ Hong Kong taxi drivers can legally charge for every piece of luggage placed in the trunk, so if you’re traveling solo from the airport, throw your bag in the back seat to save $5. The most indispensable phrase of taxi Cantonese on the bustling streets of Hong Kong: “Lee-doe!” (Stop here!)
♦ Take time to be a tourist, says Fortissimo Films chair and Filmart veteran Michael Werner: “Filmart has become bigger and busier than ever, but you still need to plan time to escape and check out Hong Kong. There really is so much to see and do. No shame in admitting you are a tourist — but behave nicely!”
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