Mak hopes for hit in China

'Infernal Affairs' director looks for pulse of China's moviegoers

HONG KONG -- "Infernal Affairs" co-director Alan Mak hopes his new thriller will break new ground for Hong Kong filmmakers still learning the tastes of viewers in the rest of China.

Directors in this vibrant movie industry -- which produced Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan -- are increasingly under pressure to cater to the booming Chinese market, but they sometimes struggle to find the pulse of Chinese moviegoers because Hong Kongers' tastes tend to be more Westernized.

The urban action thrillers that Hong Kong filmmakers are known for have not been big hits in China, which is often dominated by big-budget historical and kung fu epics. Hong Konger John Woo found success on in China with his "Red Cliff" -- a two-part historical epic -- that was among the biggest hits in China in the past year. Another big grosser was Chinese director Feng Xiaogang's romantic comedy "If You Are the One."

Mak, whose "Infernal Affairs" was remade by Martin Scorsese as "The Departed," hopes his new film, "Overheard," will break the trend. The HK$35 million ($4.5 million) production is set in Hong Kong and follows three police officers who stumble upon an insider trading plot during an eavesdropping operation.

"If this movie does well in China, then it sends us a message that we can make more movies like this," the 44-year-old director said in an interview on the sidelines of the Hong Kong premiere for "Overheard" late Tuesday.

So far the signs are encouraging. "Overheard," which opened in China on Friday, made more than 35 million Chinese yuan ($5 million) in its opening weekend and is expected to easily break the $15 million mark -- the threshold for a big hit in China, Yu Dong, chairman of investor Bona Entertainment, said at the premiere Tuesday. But that's still a long way from the $44 million earned by each of the two installments of "Red Cliff" and "If You Are the One."

Mak, who co-directed "Overheard" with "Infernal Affairs" script writer Felix Chong, said Hong Kong directors would be unlikely to have success in China with a romantic comedy like "If You Are the One."

"You need to spend 10 years there. You need to understand the culture. You need to understand its humor," he said.