AFM: Hong Kong Spirit Prevails, Despite Challenges Both Monetary and Political

Courtesy of Busan International Film Festival
'The Brink', Jonathan Li's debut film

A panel that included filmmakers and trade delegates from the city-state talked about the difficulty in raising money from China but also inventive new ways of financing, such as the Hong Kong — Asia Film Financing Forum.

The spirit of a can-do city was on display in a Loew’s hotel conference room as a trio of panelists representing Hong Kong brought to life the challenge of making movies in a city under stress while facing budgetary and political pressures not seen during the then territory’s action-movie glory days.

The verdict, said Chris Lo, director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council’s Los Angeles office, was positive. But quality is key, added Jonathan Li, whose first feature, The Brink (2017), garnered Hong Kong Film Award nominations for best new director and best action choreography.

“You have to get back to basics,” said the Hong Kong-based director, who followed an unusual path, serving as an associate director on over 27 movies.

Raising money is tough, said the panelists, with Chinese money waning and OTT financing not always accessible. But there is help: an unusual program called the Hong Kong – Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) seeks to connect projects at the treatment or script phase with potential investors, producers, distributors and sales agents.

“HAF is a platform that’s part of the Hong Kong Film Festival” held every March, HAF advisor Tim Kwok told the AFM audience of about 75. ”We’re not a funding source, but a matchmaker.” HAF picks 20-25 projects per year, which don’t need to have local or even Asian content.

And about that content: in response to an audience question, Li acknowledged that sensitive subjects may be untouchable, among other reasons because they make a project un-releasable in the Chinese market.

Asked how he deals with censorship, Li replied, with Kwok translating, that he “shoots but overcompensates” so the censors will have something to cut. Added Kwok, “That’s the game!” referring later to Hong Kong spirit. And for a can-do city, that seemed about right.