Hong Kong Filmart Opens Its Doors to a Post-Pandemic World
Hong Kong’s Filmart content market has for 27 years positioned itself as both the largest of its kind in Asia and the most influential, what with its hundreds of exhibitors from the far reaches of the region and its seminars which seek to chart the course of the industry’s future.
But for three years — like most of the pandemic-hit world — Filmart lay mostly dormant, in a physical sense at least, forced online due to circumstance and safety almost at the very moment in 2020 that Bong Joon-ho’s phenomenal Oscars success with the dark, dystopian comedy Parasitehad fixed the global industry’s focus on Asian storytelling, and Asian talent.
But this week – from March 13-16– Filmart returns to its home at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and its 27th edition is again appearing in physical form, with guests converging over the past few days, and (almost) all signs of the COVID-19 pandemic finally fading from view in Hong Kong. The event will also have an online presence for a month from March 16.
What’s not being lost on the ground here is that — thanks to the runaway global success of Everything Everywhere All at Once and the acclaim afforded its star Michelle Yeoh — the event returns now at almost the exact moment that the film world has once again turned its eyes towards Asian stories, and to the region’s creatives.
For those arriving in the city – and organizers are hoping to get close to the 9,000 international buyerswho were here for the last in-person event in 2019 – the first surprise might be how many locals are still wearing masks (the city’s legal mask mandate was only lifted on March 1 and many locals are still erring on the side of caution). But they’ll be welcomed, regardless, by an industry still celebrating the surprising and record-breaking achievements of the Jack Ng-directed court-room drama A Guilty Conscience, which in the past month has become the city’s highest-ever box office earner ever as it has sped past the HK$100 million mark ($12.7 million).Hong Kong cinema has emerged from the pandemic in a bullish mood with that lofty title of “top-earner” having been surpassed three times in the past year (In late 2022, Table For Six and Warriors of Future, each enjoyed a brief claim to the title of Hong Kong’s top-grossing local production of all time, earning $10 million and $10.5 million, respectively).
“We are all delighted by the revival of Hong Kong films in the past year, and certainly a diversified range of productions are expected to be released in the months to come,” was how Gloria Chan, section head for the entertainment industry team at the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), organizers of Filmart, recently framed the situation to The Hollywood Reporter.
There are expected to be 700 exhibitors from more than 25 countries and regions on display, with the likes of local heavyweights Edko, Emperor Motions Picture, Media Asia and Golden Scene front and center, and the HKTDC making much of the presence of Chinese pavilions showcasing what such mainland Chinese destinations as Beijing, Hangzhou and Shanghai can offer filmmakers. The EntertainmentPulse seminar series promises deep dives into such diverse subjects as an Indian and South Korean take on the “Asian Wave” of success, and a look at Chinese reality shows built around romance – for those who might have missed what’s been happening on the ground in the region over the past three years. To lure the industry back to the city, The HKTDC has offered sweeteners in the shape of discounted accommodation for visitors, and attractive subsidies of up to HK$100,000 (a little under $13,000) for exhibitors.
Attendees can also get a glimpse at what might be coming next by visiting the Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF), positioned as a sidebar to Filmart. The 2023 edition of this Hong Kong International Film Festival Society-run production initiative features 43 projects – 28 in-development projects (IDP) and 15 work-in-progress projects (WIP).
It’s a place where the international industry can track the course of trends across Asian cinema, as the forum increasingly presents projects that are directed by relative newcomers but have well-established heavyweights signed on as producers. That’s the case again this year with the likes of acclaimed directors Stanley Kwan and Tian Zhuangzhuang linked to promising projects.
Expect a “diverse” range of productions, says the director of HKIFF Industry, Jacob Wong, and that’s certainly been the case in terms of Hong Kong cinema over the past few years as a city most commonly known for its ultra-violent cop thrillers has seen a shift in focus to more low-key, distinctly local dramas. And A Guilty Conscience has shown they can do big business, too.
“There seem to be more mainstream projects this year, and they look interesting,” says Wong. “The Europeans will say, ‘Oh, what are all of these commercial firms doing here?’ But that is how the industry is in Hong Kong, and other parts of Asia. Cinema is not subsidized, so HAF is here to help get films made.”
There’s been much curiosity already from those flying into Filmart in person for the first time since 2019 about how much the city itself has changed since the mass protests and civil unrest of that year – which sometimes turned violent and led to the implementation of a National Security Law in June 2020 and the establishment of a National Security Department to enforce it.
The government line is that “stability and prosperity” has returned. The creative industries are still quietly coming to terms with loosely defined “red lines” in terms of what subjects are allowed, or not, under the new law.
Maverick Hong Kong director Soi Cheang has finished two films over the past two years – the acclaimed noirish thriller Limbo and the ultra-violent killer thriller Mad Fate, the latter of which bowed at the Berlin International Film Festival last month and will screen as part of this year’s Hong Kong International Film Festival, which starts March 30. He says questions about the new regulatory realities in the local industry have become common.