A COLD WAR FOR LOCAL FILMS: HONG KONG CINEMA IN 2016

2016 was not a good year for the Hong Kong box office in general, let alone for Hong Kong films. Despite an increase of ticket prices by around 5 per cent over the past 12 months, the overall box office dropped 1.97 per cent from HK$1.98 billion to HK$ 1.95 billion. There were 61 distributed Hong Kong films in 2016, and the total box office of local films dropped about 6.5 per cent, from HK$386m in 2015 to HK$361m in 2016. The market share of Hong Kong films also fell, from 19 per cent in 2015 to 18 per cent in 2016.

On the bright side, Cold War 2, a crime-film sequel by Sunny Luk and Leung Long-man, grossed over HK$66.24m, and became the all-time highest grossing Hong Kong film in the territory. It broke records previously set by Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle in 2004 (HK$61.28m) and Taiwanese director Giddens Ko’s You Are the Apple of My Eye in 2011 (HK$61.86m). In addition, Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid grossed over HK$55.24m over the Lunar New Year. It has been years since two films have grossed over HK$50m each during this period.
But the top-10 chart shows the overall weakness of the Hong Kong box office. Only seven Hong Kong films grossed over HK$10m in 2016, compared to 16 in 2015. Worse, 27 out of the 65 released films grossed less than HK$1m, and this even included some big-budget China-Hong Kong co-productions like Ringo Lam’s Sky on Fire, which only grossed HK$990,000, despite starring Daniel Wu and Joseph Chang. Derek Yee’s remake of Sword Master, featuring mainland actors, ended up only taking HK$400,000, despite being a decently made movie.

Even the peak seasons didn’t deliver. Christmas saw a wintry box office, with a decline of 25 per cent on 2015, with a noticeable drop for Hong Kong films. In 2015, Wilson Yip’s Ip Man 3 and Patrick Kong’s Anniversary had a total gross of over HK$80m. Last year, Patrick Kong’s L for Love, L for Lies grossed only HK$8.15m. See You Tomorrow, produced by Wong Kar-wai, failed to capture local audiences and grossed only HK$3.35m. This resulted in an almost HK$70m drop over Christmas. Even some of mainland China’s box office hits flopped in Hong Kong, because local audiences don’t share the mainland’s tastes.
There were no big box-office surprises to offer hope to Hong Kong filmmakers. In 2015, there were miracles like Adrian Kwan’s Little Big Master and Lan Ho-leung’s Two Thumbs Up. The biggest surprise of 2016 was Trivisa, directed by three new directors, Frank Hui, Jevons Au, and Vicky Wong. It depicted the life of three notorious criminals before the 1997 handover, and grossed over HK$9.3m. While the industry expected Stevefat’s (Chan Chi-fat) directorial debut Weeds on Fire, a film about the youth baseball team in Hong Kong, to triumph at the box office, it ended up taking a tiny HK$4.69m. Uncertainty about its release date dampened the film’s arrival, and it faced a big challenge from the Korean box-office hit Train to Busan.
The fresh approach of Taiwanese youth films resulted in hits for the country in Hong Kong in the past, but the magic seems to have gone. At Café 6, directed by first-time director Neal Wu and featuring Hong Kong actress Cherry Ngan, only took HK$5.11m – it was forecast to take over HK$10m. As for mainland cinema, the only surprise in Hong Kong was that Zhang Yimou’s epic The Great Wall took over HK$13m despite less than favourable reviews. The remainder of mainland Chinese films grossed less than HK$ 0.6m in Hong Kong.

The biggest box-office surprise for films from the wider Asian region was Korean zombie film Train to Busan. It was distributed by Edko, and grossed over HK$68m, to become the highest grossing Asian film of the year. The success was mainly down to good marketing by Edko, who localised the promotion. Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, also distributed by Edko, grossed over HK$2.54m with medium-sized distribution, and also surprised the market. But there was no knock-on effect for Korean films, which did not benefit from these successes, and grossed less than HK$0.6m in total. As for Japanese films, animation is still strong in Hong Kong. Shinkai Makoto’s body-swap romance Your Name, released in Hong Kong in November 2016, grossed over HK$32m.
Hong Kong cinema started weakly in 2017 with Chris Chow’s thriller Cherry Returns and Jill Wong’s comedy Lucky Fat Man performing poorly at the box office. But the Lunar New Year was relatively strong, despite only two Chinese films being released during the season. Tsui Hark’s Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back performed well, though it grossed only half of Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid. There are some promising projects scheduled from April through to the summer, but in today’s climate, it may be difficult to better the performance of these films at the box office.



The Top 10 Hong Kong Films in 2016 by Box Office

Rank    Movie Title    Director    Release Date    Box Office (HK)
1    Cold War 2    Sunny LUK, LEUNG Lok-man    08 Jul 2016    $ 66.82m
2    The Mermaid    Stephen CHOW    08 Feb 2016    $ 56.22m
3    From Vegas to Macau III    WONG Jing, Andrew LAU    06 Feb 2016    $ 25.05m
4    The Monkey King 2    Soi CHEANG    05 Feb 2016    $ 15.92m
5    Line Walker, The Movie    Jazz BOON    11 Aug 2016    $ 10.98m
6    Call of Heroes    Benny CHAN    26 Nov 2015    $ 10.28m
7    The Bodyguard    Sammo HUNG    01 Apr 2016    $ 9.82m
8    Book of Love    Xue Xiaolu    05 May 2016    $ 9.56m
9    Trivisa    Frank HUI, Jevons AU,     07 Apr 2016    $ 9.30m
        Vicky WONG    
10    S Storm    David LAM    15 Sep 2016    $ 8.74m

Ryan Law