How Local Directors Are Ushering in a New Dawn for the Hong Kong Film Industry

Golden Scene
First Film Initiative honoree 'Mad World' was a success in theaters, grossing HK$16.9 million ($2.1 million).

Thanks to a number of initiatives to support homegrown talent, a resourceful generation of determined filmmakers is remaking the region’s storied film sector.

It’s becoming inescapable. New Hong Kong directors are appearing on the film slates of studios across the region, racking up awards and crashing the lineups of Asia’s top festivals.

After a decade in which less than a handful of new directors established themselves — Pang Ho-cheung, Patrick Kong — 26 filmmakers made their directorial debuts in 2016 in Hong Kong; in 2017, that number rose to more than 30. It is not a stretch to declare that the next generation of Hong Kong filmmakers is arriving.

The turnaround that has led to the emergence of this new crop of storytellers is the result of a concerted effort by the local industry, old-guard filmmakers, government initiatives and festival support. It has been well-documented that since the mid-2000s, Hong Kong’s most established directors have flocked north to grab yuan. The ever-growing and mammoth Chinese theatrical market has effectively sucked up Hong Kong filmmakers big and small, commercial and art house — regardless of the creative constraints that come with working under Beijing’s regulator regime.

But it’s now becoming clear that the Hong Kong film industry hasn’t died — and won’t die. A growing sense of urgency to preserve the island’s treasured cinematic legacy has resulted in a confluence of government and industry efforts to open doors for the next generation — all of which have begun to bear real fruit.

The government department CreateHK and a subsidiary, the Hong Kong Film Development Council, for example, mobilized to subsidize and discover first-time filmmakers through a competition called the First Film Initiative, inaugurated in 2013.

“There is a diversity of subject matter in our new filmmakers’ work, some of which is quite daring,” says Gary Mak, a member of the First Film Initiative’s assessment panel and director of the Asian Film Festival, an event that has been consistently keen on showcasing emerging voices.

Elsewhere, mentorship programs are popping up to help the new generation mature and maintain its momentum.

The Hong Kong Film Directors Guild launched a film course in early April that is taught by such legendary Hong Kong directors as Ann Hui, Peter Chan, Felix Chong and guild president Andrew Lau. The program aims to impart the must-knows of working in the Hong Kong and Chinese film businesses of today to help set up new talent for early success and, hopefully, sustainable careers.

“Although there are many film courses in Hong Kong, I don’t think they teach what is really happening in the industry right now, because they don’t have that many working directors as teachers,” says Lau. “It’s crucial to teach the new generation what it is like in the present film industry.”

A version of this story appears in The Hollywood Reporter's May 9 daily issue from the Cannes Film Festival.