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Dire warning sounded as Hong Kong film industry slowdown continues

The once vibrant Hong Kong film industry is struggling to recover from the effects of COVID and related problems, a local report has warned.

The report identified problems with theatrical box office, local production, co-production with mainland China and film investment.

The Motion Picture Industry Association and Hong Kong Box Office Ltd. regular half year report showed that cinemas in the city had been closed for 104 days this year, including Chinese New Year and Easter, both normally peak periods. Capacity restrictions remain in place as city authorities waver between trying to reopen the economy and a ‘dynamic zero’ COVID policy.

Actual cinema revenues in the first six month were little changed at HK$357 million ($45.5 million), compared with HK$376 million ($47.9 million). But only because the first half of 2021 was similarly affected by restrictions and cinemas were only open for 48 days.

The organizations note that box office takings were 66% lower than the $134 million registered in the first six months of 2019, the most recent pre-COVID year.

Just 73 films opened in the city’s cinemas during the first half of 2022, the vast majority of which were foreign imports.

“It can be seen that the Hong Kong film industry, including production and theatrical distribution sectors, have been very seriously affected by the epidemic,” the report says.

“Film production staff have been infected and cannot shoot. Actors and production teams in Hong Kong and [mainland] China are affected by 14 conditions, such as quarantine, which have affected the progress of works and discouraged investors, resulting in a sharp drop in production since 2021,” the report says. In recent years, large numbers of Hong Kong-initiated films have been co-produced with Mainland China partners or finance, meaning that conditions across the border have a spill-over effect in Hong Kong.

“Only six Hong Kong films were released in the first half of 2022. Output is low. Box office has plummeted. And no [local] film achieved HK$1 million in theaters, which is a miserable outcome,” the report continues.

In its heyday between the 1970s and 1990s, the Hong Kong film industry produced over 300 movies per year, including many in different Chinese dialects. In the decade before COVID, Hong Kong film output had fluctuated between 50-70 movies per year and the city had retained a key position in film finance and rights sales.

“The last Hong Kong government did not provide any support to the film industry, which is disappointing and a cause for complaint,” the report said. In fact, city authorities did provide direct subsidy to the cinema exhibition, but operators have been plagued with high rents and prolonged cinema closures and the cash injections did not prevent the collapse of the UA cinema chain in May 2021.

“It is hoped that the current government and its new team will face up to the difficulties of the film sector and lend a helping hand,” said the report. That is a reference to Hong Kong’s sixth term government under Chief Executive John Lee which took effect from July 1, 2022.

“Top Gun Maverick” was the top performing film of the period with HK$85.5 million ($11.1 million) to June 30. It was followed by “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” with a HK$65.5 million ($8.35 million) haul. In contrast, the top scoring Hong Kong-produced film was “Breakout Brothers 3,” with just HK$713,000 ($91,000) of theatrical revenue. Variety

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