HK trade chief So sees China ties

Says HK key partner in reaching growing film market

CANNES - Despite Chinese and Hong Kong cultures growing ever closer, some comical differences remain. Or so says Jack So, chairman of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, who is in Cannes to talk up the latest film developments in the former British territory.

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter Thursday, So emphasized the strong position Hong Kong occupies in moving in on the Chinese film industry, and spoke about continuing efforts to re-build and boost the Hong Kong film economy.

As part of that focus, the Hong Kong government established a Hong Kong Film Development Council in November 2007 of which So is also chairman.

“The Hong Kong government feels that the film industry is an important part of the local economy, not only for the film industry itself, but also in terms of the effect on the economy like tourism, or design,” said So.

The Film Council was established at a time when the number of Hong Kong productions has declined sharply from around 200 productions just a few years ago to some 50 productions a year.

In response to the situation, the Film Council established a HK$300 million ($384 million) film fund last November providing equity financing for films that have a 50% Hong Kong spend.

So far three films have been given the green light with a further dozen under consideration.
“The fund is very much a venture capital fund in that you can’t guarantee success,” said So. “But the government is willing to take that risk.”

As per So, there are a number of factors that have affected the decline in production, including piracy and Internet downloads.

“Still, we are making a comeback,” said So. “The government is making an effort to facilitate this comeback and realizing this is important for the economy.”

Another key focus for the Film Council is to work on developing the relationship between China and Hong Kong, dealing with Chinese censorship issues and restrictions from the Chinese authorities, and getting the ball rolling with co-productions and beyond.

A major advantage Hong Kong has is an exemption from the quota of 20 international films allowed to screen in China each year on a revenue sharing basis.

“That’s extremely important for Hong Kong in terms of expanding into the Chinese market,” said So. “China is such a lucrative market that many producers are keen to produce with an eye to China. Alternatively, China is also happy to use Hong Kong as a gateway to the West.”

What audiences like in China is now more similar to the tastes in Hong Kong, as per So. But some differences remain:

“Some Hong Kong comedy doesn’t fly but it has become very fashionable in China now to understand a Hong Kong joke,” said So.

“How do we produce for three different cultures (China, Hong Kong, international)?” he added. “By a strange coincidence there has been a convergence of tastes and a re-awakened interest in Chinese culture.”