Hong Kong Box Office in 2018: That Sinking Feeling (Again)

The Hong Kong film industry has benefitted from the arrival of 20 new directors on the scene over the past two years, but their presence has not changed the overall box office results. Despite a 5% hike in ticket prices since 2017, and an increase of 5.54% in the total box-office take for 2018 (from HK$1.85 billion to HK$1.96 billion), the total box office numbers for Hong Kong films have remained almost identical to 2016. The number of Hong Kong films as defined by the Hong Kong Film Awards Association (HKFAA) dropped from 65 in 2017 to 54 in 2018. As for the box office take of Hong Kong films, a slight drop was recorded, from HK$255m in 2017 to HK$250m in 2018. These numbers have brought about a further drop in the market share of Hong Kong films, from 14% in 2017 to 13% in 2018.

Fifty percent of the Lunar New Year box office was shared among Hong Kong films such as Agent Mr. Chan, the 007-style comedy from new director Jeff Cheung, which was the year’s biggest local film. However, the Lunar New Year was also the main source of the annual box office, with a total of six films grossing HK$98m, which adds up to almost 40% of the annual box office. Five out of six films released during Lunar New Year made it to the top 10 list of Hong Kong’s 2018 total box office take.

The first six months of the lunar calendar were rather silent for Hong Kong cinema. Between March and July, a total of 21 films were released. Almost all the films released during that period, which includes Easter and the early summer season, grossed less than HK$5m. The only exception was Chan Tai-lee’s melodrama Tomorrow Is Another Day, which was released after cast members Teresa Mo and Ling Man-lung won the Hong Kong Film Awards in mid-April. It eventually managed to gross HK$6.05m.
Outside of Lunar New Year, crime and action films received the most attention from the local audience. These two genres occupied four out of the five remaining spots in the top 10 list of highest-grossing films in Hong Kong for the year. The bigger the cast, the better the results at the box office seemed to be, and that explains why Felix Chong’s forgery film Project Gutenberg grossed close to HK$35m – it features two major A-list actors, Chow Yun-fat and Aaron Kwok. The film dominated the Hong Kong Film Awards, wining in 17 categories out of the 19 it was nominated for. Another example of a genre success was director David Lam’s third instalment of the anti-corruption-themed Storm franchise L Storm, which starred Louis Koo and Cheung Chi-lam. It grossed HK$17.55m.

Forty per cent of last year’s Hong Kong films were directed by newcomers. The box office surprise was scriptwriter Sunny Chan’s directorial debut Men on the Dragon, about a group of middle-aged colleagues who join a dragon boat team to avoid being laid off. Although the film never made it to the top of the weekly box office charts, it won the support of the working class, and eventually grossed over HK$15.7m. Another two new directors whose films grossed over HK$5m in the fourth quarter of 2018 were Jevon Au, who directed the warm drama Distinction and Jun Li, who made the transsexual film Tracey. Other new directors are still looking for their first box office hit.

The success of mainland Chinese and Taiwanese films in Hong Kong swapped around in 2018. There were only eight Taiwanese films released, but the Taiwanese remake of the Korean melodrama More than Blue captured the hearts of the younger generation and provided some romance at Christmas. It grossed over HK$20m. Operation Red Sea was considered a Hong Kong film by the HKFAA, so there were 15 mainland Chinese films released in Hong Kong last year, but only Jiang Wen’s Hidden Man was able to gross more than HK$1m. The 15 films included mainland China blockbusters like Detective Chinatown 2, The Ex-File 3: The Return of the Exes and Hello Mr. Billionaire, but all of them grossed less than HK$0.2m each. Mainland Chinese films are welcomed by the majority of the Hong Kong audience.

Korean films continued their rise in in 2018, with a two-episode series by director Kim Yong-hwa, Along with the Gods, starring Ha Jung-woo, grossing HK$54.25m and HK$48.53m. The total gross was HK$119m from a total of 22 Korean films. However, only eight of these films grossed over HK$1m. Genres varied from films about society like 1987: When the Day Comes (HK$3.95m), to a vampire film, Rampant (HK$2.70m). It is also interesting to note that there were around 70 Japanese films being released in Hong Kong last year, one-third of them being animations. The total Japanese gross was HK$82m. The Cantonese-dubbed Doraemon the Movie: Nobita’s Treasure Island led the Japanese box office in Hong Kong and was the first Doraemon 2-D film to gross over HK$10m. There were five Thai films released as well, but the only notable film at the box office was the comedy Brother of the Year, which grossed over HK$9m.

With the early arrival of Lunar New Year in 2019, the year began with a total of five Hong Kong Lunar New Year films released. Both Alan Mak’s anti-corruption themed Integrity, and Stephen Chow and Herman Yau’s New King of Comedy, are projected to gross over HK$33m and HK$22m respectively. Encouragingly, Hong Kong’s market share during Lunar New Year improved to 60 per cent this year. Hopefully, lauded films such as Oliver Chan’s Still Human and Fruit Chan’s Three Husbands will be released before Easter. Such high-quality movies should give audiences more confidence in local fare. There is still a chance for the market share to increase in 2019.

Top 10 Box Office
Hong Kong Films in 2018

Rank Movie Title Director Release Date Box Office
1 Agent Mr. Chan Jeff CHEUNG 15 Feb 2018 $45.26m
2 Project Gutenberg Alan MAK 04 Oct 2018 $34.57m
3 A Beautiful Moment Patrick KONG 15 Feb 2018 $17.58m
4 L Storm David LAM 23 Aug 2018 $17.55m
5 Monster Hunt Raman HUI 16 Feb 2018 $16.38m
6 Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy YUEN Woo-ping 23 Dec 2018 $15.90m
7 Men on the Dragon Sunny CHAN 02 Aug 2018 $15.69m
8 Golden Job CHIN Ka-lok 20 Sep 2018 $10.98m
9 The Monkey King 3 Soi CHEANG 15 Feb 2018 $9.13m
10 Operation Red Sea Dante LAM 01 Mar 2018 $8.83m
Ryan Law