ad info


Asiaweek TIMEASIA.com CNN.com
 > magazine
 home
 intelligence
 web features
 magazine archive
 technology
 newsmap
 customer service
 subscribe
 TIMEASIA.COM
 CNN.COM
  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia
  australasia
 BUSINESS
 SPORTS
 SHOWBIZ
 ASIA WEATHER
 ASIA TRAVEL

Other News
TIME.com
TIME Europe
FORTUNE.com
FORTUNE China
MONEY.com
Asiaweek Services
Contact Asiaweek
About Asiaweek
Media Kit
Get up to 3 months of Asiaweek free when you subscribe online!


APRIL 21, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 15 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK

Independent Views
There's life after Jackie Chan
By MARIA CHENG

ALSO:
Talking Pictures

High-speed action, explosive stunts and the power of celebrity. It's a mix that the Hong Kong movie industry relies on to bring in the crowds. Over the past few years, though, the old formulas have steadily lost potency at the box office. Even action star Jackie Chan isn't quite the draw he used to be. Who Am I?, his sprawling adventure flick about an amnesiac cop, took in a mere $8 million in the SAR -- less than a third of the $26 million it cost to make. But for film buffs, this decline had a positive side -- it makes room for smaller, highly individual movies.

Prime examples are showcased in The Age of Independents section at the city's annual film festival this month. Among them: You Le's Suzhou River and Blue August by Alex Lai, who began his career in video production. Both films represent a new strain of Hong Kong cinema, says festival programmer Jacob Wong. August explores the difficulties of young love in the SAR while River juxtaposes the creek that flows through Shanghai against the hurried lives of the residents. Though often starkly simple, such productions have nonetheless been able to present moving portraits of human relationships. "Anyone with an open mind can get something from these films," Wong says.

He explaining the shift: "The basic structure of movie-making in Hong Kong has changed." A succession of big-name, poor-quality movies since the 1980s turned off large sections of the audience. Accelerated by thriving film piracy, cinema attendance fell, and along with it output from major producers like Media Asia and Golden Harvest. Hong Kong released just 40 films last year compared to 234 in 1993. Rather than play Russian roulette with big-ticket movies, financial backers have begun to place smaller bets, putting their money in more modest projects. As a result, investors are more experimental with their film choices, says Jimmy Choi, who heads the film department of the Hong Kong Arts Center. "Given a few million dollars [budget] instead of ten, filmmakers have more freedom to be daring," he adds.

Government grants helped too. Since 1996, the Hong Kong Arts Development Council released just over $4 million to fund individual projects. "That made it a lot easier for young directors," says Wong. At least, they aren't dependent on shooting info-tainment programs or TV soaps to pay the rent.

Indie movies are still "a hard sell," concedes Wong, "but people are starting to appreciate the distinctive style of smaller films." Indeed, Fruit Chan's debut film, Made in Hong Kong, was a sleeper hit. Made for just $77,000, it not only brought in $200,000 and multiple awards at home but was also shortlisted for an Oscar nomination in 1997. Building on the success of directors like Chan and Yu Lik-Wai, whose Love Will Tear Us Apart was invited to Cannes last year, energetic young directors are showing that cinema-goers can demand more from a film than mindless formula. Lai's Blue August, for instance, was among the first films to be sold out at the current festival.

Not that indies are likely to be rolling in cash. Even an established filmmaker like Ann Hui has difficulties financing her character-driven movies. "These days, a lot of directors say they're 'working on the script,' which means they're unemployed," she laughs. "It's hard to get the money, but investors will leave you alone if the movie is good."

Getting the film made is only half the battle, of course. Marketing carries a hefty price tag too. Those aspects are being tackled by Ying-E-Chi, a directors' collective that finances publicity and distribution using funds garnered from film sales, official grants and private contributions. Started in 1995 by director Vincent Chui and friends, the group has since helped some 20 Hong Kong filmmakers.

The burgeoning indie scene is gaining attention abroad. Most play only the art-house circuit. "It's a specialized market that our films are produced for," says Chui. Still, there is hope for this fledgling movement. "Not everyone wants to make a movie to compete with studio productions," Chui adds. "Popularity isn't everything. All we want is to make a good film." For Hong Kong's ailing cinema, that may be just the ticket.

Talking Pictures
While the West raves about how cool Being John Malkovich is, a few Asia-related selections have SAR festival stalwarts in a tizz .

The Cup (director: Khyentse Norbu) This quaint comedy is notable not just because it is about a young Tibetan monk trying to juggle his monasterial duties with his soccer obsession as the World Cup final is being screened on TV. The director is a living breathing lama. Holy Buddha!

Augustin, King of Kung-Fu (Anne Fontaine) The title suggests chop-socky schlock, but it's actually a French/Spanish production featuring Hong Kong star Maggie Cheung. And speaking French. C'est vrai!

Eating Air (directed by Kelvin Tong and Jasmin Ng) Just when you thought the terms Singaporean and hip were incompatible (Glen Goei's Forever Fever being a rare exception) comes this rock-the-block movie. And in Singlish no less, lah.

Bueno Aires Zero Degree: the Making Of Happy Together (by Kwan Pun-leung and Amos Lee) and Dead Knot (Wong Chi-keung) A combination designed for Hong Kong cultists. Zero Degree didn't just borrow the title from tango master Astor Piazolla's album but also drew footage from director Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together to make this behing-the-scenes documentary, while Dead Knot is a homoerotic short a young John Woo wrote, acted and showed his butt in.

Catnapped (by Takashi Nakamura) The 1995 debut work from the director of cyber-anime classic Akira. And shockingly, it's not violent, or that nihilistic at all. In fact, it's cute.

Write to Asiaweek at mail@web.asiaweek.com

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek.com Home

AsiaNow


Quick Scroll: More stories from Asiaweek, TIME and CNN

   LATEST HEADLINES:

WASHINGTON
U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

MANILA
Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

ALLAHABAD
Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

COLOMBO
Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

TOKYO
Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

BANGKOK
Thai party announces first coalition partner



TIME:

COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state



ASIAWEEK:

COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness


Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN
 Search
  ASIAWEEK'S LATEST
Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?


  THIS EDITION
COVER: When Phone Calls Are Free
International telephone calls are migrating to the Internet - where they are becoming too cheap to meter. Can a telecommunications industry bloodbath be far behind?
The Future of Phones: An Asiaweek Roundtable on how the Internet is changing - and challenging - the industry
Go Wild . . . for Free: Stop me before I call again

THE NATIONS
KOREA: Summit Stakes
Kim Dae Jung and Kim Jong Il surprise the world by agreeing to meet

INDONESIA: Rocks in the Road
The leaders are still acting like oppositionists

TAIWAN: The Trouble with Annette
Why the vice president-elect is under fire

PHILIPPINES: Unheard on the Street
Despite dissent, Estrada still has mass support

VIETNAM: Land Where Caution Rules
Behind a stalled trade accord with the U.S.

SINGAPORE: Running to (Always) Win
The PAP must evolve to maintain its record

NEPAL: Cockpit of Intrigue
Why Kathmandu is now labeled the subcontinent's "Casablanca"

INSIDE STORY
The Spy of the Century?
Accused of mishandling classified material, Taiwan-born Wen-ho Lee is in jail, shackled and isolated. His family fights on; the scientific community asks questions
Fear, Loathing in the Labs: Was one scientist fired because he is Chinese?

ECONOMY
Coming Together: South China could be an economic powerhouse. But progress is slow
'In Search of Money: Cash-starved mainland tech firms try IPOs

EDITORIALS
Down to Earth: The dotcom stock plunge gives a timely warning: Beware excesses
'Speed' in Thailand: Yangon must get serious about stopping the flow of amphetamines

LETTERS
Is the Internet all good?

NEWSMAP
This week's news round-up by country

TECHNOLOGY
Cutting Edge
Authors talk back
more Technology

BUSINESS
Liberalization, Part Two
Finally, the Philippines is opening up again

As the Cycle Turns
Semiconductor firms avoid adding capacity

Viewpoint
Hotel service: world class and Asian too

Unafraid to Face Investors
This Japanese Internet mall expects a windfall

Business Buzz
Singtel Throws Time A Line

ARTS & SCIENCES
Asian Film Gets a Rush
Youth themes fire up regional productions at Hong Kong's cinematic festival
Independent Views: There's life after Jackie Chan

The Silent Timebomb
Diabetes is rising at alarming rates, particularly in youngsters

Tibet Beyond the Propaganda
Unflinching history takes all sides to task

People
Thailand's twin sensations on the green

Newsmakers
Pakistan's A List

MONEY & INVESTING
The Case for Earnings
Believe in the tech revolution, not Internet stocks

STATISTICS
The Bottom Line: Asiaweek's ranking of world economies, now online
Monitor: Maybe not such great news


Back to the top   © 2000 Asiaweek. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.