In the just concluded 41st Taiwan Golden Horse Film Awards Ceremony, multiple-nominated film Kekexili by Chinese mainland director Lu Chuan has picked up the overall Best Film Award. In recent years, there have been a series of excellent Chinese films from mainland directors setting new box office records and winning world recognition, such as Hero and The House of Flying Daggers by Zhang Yimou and Together by Chen Kaige.
As the mainland film industry enters a booming period, Hong Kong and Taiwan's film industries are seemingly suffering difficulties.
It is predicted that there will be only one local movie, Stephen Chow's Kong Fu, on show during next year's Spring Festival in Hong Kong. More significantly, a local cinema that once prided itself on only screening Hong Kong films is planning to present a South Korean film later in the month. "Such a thing would have been impossible in the past," said the President of Hong Kong Film Association. "In the past few years there were always a few local films competing for showing."
Taking stock of the situation, Jackie Chan and a number of other Hong Kong film stars have got together to form an association devoted to the discussion of this previously powerful industry's problems. Experts regard poor production, street piracy and internet downloads, as the main reasons behind the slump in Hong Kong filming output.
Regarding the problem of production, the senior filmmaker Tian Qiwen believes that some film stars' salaries are so high that investors have to actually reduce the funds allocated for production. Consequently, he praises Hong Kong star Ren Dahua, who has volunteered to cut his salary in order to support local film production. Tian Qiwen says that when assessing a film's merits, an actor should consider what it's about and who the director is, rather than how much money he personally will stand to make. It is a matter of career morality.
As for mainland professionals, they obviously consider it a good thing that the previous gigantic output of Hong Kong films has been reduced. This is not motivated purely by self interest, but rather they hope that cutting out the deadweight of poor quality films will prevent the whole Hong Kong industry from sinking. These mainland professionals would advise Hong Kong filmmakers to concentrate on making fewer, but better quality films, such as New Police Story, which marked both a comeback and artistic change of direction for Jackie Chan.
The Taiwan film industry has been experiencing a longer period of decline, even when compensating for the fact that there are still a number of famous directors producing excellent works. The number of cinemas in Taiwan has steadily decreased since the mid 1980s, along with a decline in the scale of film production. According to statistics, there were only 226 theatres remaining in Taiwan last year, with a selection of only 20 films.
The World-famous Taiwanese director Ang Lee says that the real problem is a lack of cultural profundity in films, rather than any technical problems, which are quite easily solved when they do arise. John Woo holds the same opinion as Ang Lee, adding that apart from the need for more artistic, less commercial material, Taiwan's young directors should concentrate on basic movie-making, instead of aiming for quick results and instant profits.
But in spite of all this criticism, good films are still leaking out of both regions, with the aforementioned New Police Story from Hong Kong, and Zhang Aijia's 20, 30, 40 from Taiwan. As long as the two industries are not wiped out completely, there should still be a future for films from Hong Kong and Taiwan, especially as film-makers often seem to thrive in the face of both personal problems and social failure.
(CRI.com December 17, 2004)