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Filmart 16: love, sex and death

At this year’s edition of FILMART in Hong Kong, business for genre titles has been alive and well, even if the titles’ subjects often aren’t.

What specific genres were doing well was harder to get a handle on, although it does seem that the appeal of zombies is waning. There were no obvious new “(insert any noun) vs Zombies” titles; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies will (hopefully) mark the end of the “just add zombies” approach.

Rumours are circulating in Hong Kong that in the wake of continuing political pressure or abuse of power, depending on one’s POV, the Busan Festival may not go ahead this year. The Korean zombie title Train to Busan might be the only trip many festivalgoers take this year.

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There was no standout title at FILMART this year. As it celebrates its 20th edition, it’s a sign of the market’s strength and maturity that no title can snag all the attention. Although the numbers organisers published for the event note continuing growth, there’s also an awareness that film markets need to change in response to changes in the way films are distributed.

With the increasing viability of VOD platforms operating regionally or worldwide, the territory by territory sales model is diminishing. Some genres are more resistant to change than others. One would expect horror – traditionally a low-budget genre – to have been leading the charge to online distribution. At FILMART, it’s only really J-horror that seems to have a smaller presence this year. The stands of distributors from longtime creators of horror Thailand and Malaysia seemed as busy as ever.

Arthouse titles are languishing, however. While the Korean government weighs legislative options to force exhibitors to screen such fare, it is a diminishing offer at FILMART. Those that do survive are mostly titles with leads who are well-known (at least in the nation of origin) or those with strong festival pedigree, such as the films of Japanese auteur Naomi Kawase. Kawase’s An competes at the Best Actor award at Thursday’s Asian Film Awards, while its female lead Kiki Kirin, will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. Kawase herself was today announced as this year’s president for Cannes Cinéfondation and Short Films Jury.

Some considerable distance from arthouse, populist fare including some NZ titles is doing well at FILMART. Born to Dance had a very good run out at the Berlinale, leading to sales. In Hong Kong, CMG’s Dené Anderberg is accepting offers for remaining Asian territories.

XYZ Films reported plenty of interest in Toa Fraser’s NZ-UK action title 6 Days. The story of the 19980 siege of the Iranian Embassy in London, a screening of teaser footage in Berlin had to be repeated four times, so much interest was there. By lunchtime on the first day at FILMART, XYZ was also fielding offers from Asian territories.

6 Days

6 Days

Action titles are not something Asian producers are shy of, with Ham Tran’s Vietnamese Bitcoin Heist (pictured, top) drawing plenty of interest at FILMART. Hong Kong is still best known for in many parts of the world for the films of Bruce Lee and/or Jackie Chan. Martial arts skills can drive substantial careers, whether or not they’re accompanied by acting ability. Hong Kong action directors Sammo Hung (busy promoting April release The Bodyguard) and Yuen Woo-ping (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny), have each racked up 100+ title careers including work and plaudits from A list directors around the world.

Among the local action titles on offer at this year’s FILMART was a third title in the Raiders franchise. Following Tokyo Raiders and Seoul Raiders will come Europe Raiders, which will be produced by Wong Kar-Wai’s Jet Tone production company.

Veteran lead Tony Leung Chiu-wai will return, alongside Kris Wu, whose popularity as a member of K-Pop group EXO will do absolutely no harm to sales of tickets to youngsters. Wu is one of the stars of Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid, which broke the Chinese box office records over the recent New Year period.

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There is always a selection of films on offer at FILMART where it’s a pretty safe bet that the title or poster is likely to be the best thing about it. Japanese director Noboru Iguchi does a good line in those. A contributor to the original ABCs of Death (“F is for Fart”), Iguchi’s oeuvre includes Dead Sushi and Zombie Ass: The Toilet of the Damned.

For the fourth year running, the Asylum will deliver a Sharknado title. There’s also Joe Bauer’s Australiens (“Extra-terrestrials launch an assault on Australia, much to the bafflement of the rest of the world”). Sushi Police won a poster gong at Cannes last year but FILMART’s winner was Snake Outta Compton.

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FILMART (14 – 17 March), runs as part of the 10-event Hong Kong Entertainment Expo, which also includes film financing forum/project market HAF (14 – 16 March), and the Hong Kong International Film Festival (21 March – 4 April). Originally created by the HKIFF, now run separately, the Asian Film Awards runs in Macau on 17 March.

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