Several of HK’s Entertainment Expo events have built successfully on regional star power, leveraging off one another’s offer to generate media and public interest.
This year’s crop provided no less than normal, with Malaysian-born actress Michelle Yeoh perhaps the most recognisable face beyond Asia. A classic example of someone whose on-screen status belies their lack of physical height, Yeoh fronted for media ahead of a celebratory dinner on Sunday the night before collecting her Excellence in Asian Cinema award at Monday’s Asian Film Awards.
Probably still best-known internationally for her turn in Ang Lee’s first Oscar winner, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or a James Bond film, she’s made some interesting choices since, appearing in a couple of English-language high-profile titles (The Mummy, Kung Fu Panda 2), an indie British film Far North and as Aung San Suu Ki in The Lady, which the Burmese government loved so much they deported her from the country.
Across the access way from Yeoh’s dinner on Sunday evening, the Hong Kong International Film Festival was holding its red-carpet opening, featuring a strangely large number of young Hong Kongese in an assortment of mostly Japanese fantasy costumes. Strange because there’s no Japanese, or indeed fantasy, section in the HKIFF programme this year.
Herman Yau, director of the festival’s opening film, Ip Man: the final fight, has a reputation both as one of Hong Kong’s most celebrated and least-seen directors, not being a great fan of the limelight. Consequently he was a no-show for the opening ceremony, leaving producer Checklie Sin and actor Anthony Wong to the honours alongside festival ambassador Miriam Yeung, lead of 2012 festival opener Love in the Buff.
Yau did front for the actual film presentation of his Ip Man: the Final Fight, praising his cast and, in particular, his design team for their work in recreating elements of the city dating back between 40 and 60 years – no mean feat in a city that still takes Chairman Mao Ze Dong’s “perpetual revolution” to heart, at least when it comes to redevelopment.
The AFA is very star-driven, from its major red-carpet opening onwards. The carpet runs by a grandstand groaning with photographers, and regional celebrities take their turn in a two-hour procession occasionally broken by hyphenates (usually actor-models) all of whom have graduated with honours from the shoulders-back-tits-out school of posing. And there were actress-models too.
Naturally enough, home-grown celebrities burned out the largest number of flash-bulbs, from veteran actors including Sammo Hung and Deanie Ip (both previous AFA winners) to jury president Andy Lau.
US screenwriter Michael Tolkin (Changing Lanes, Deep Impact, The Player) was the major guest from beyond Asia, although one of the warmest and most respectful receptions of the evening was reserved for retiring director of the Tokyo International Film Festival Tom Yoda.
There have been suggestions the AFA might become a peripatetic affair, rolling around the region, which would be a shame for both Hong Kong and the event itself. Hong Kong would lose the major marketing opportunities around the event, which is a very high-profile public kick-off for the month-long Entertainment Expo. While other cities and their film festivals might well welcome the boost Hong Kong would lose in surrendering the event (which is an initiative of the HKIFF), they would also be less likely to deliver the levels of pan-regional participation the AFA achieves in Hong Kong.
Filmart also derives benefit from the cluster of international nominees and winners the awards deliver, with national film offices from around the region – almost all of whom have stands at the market event – quick to arrange for their winners to visit market stands and sprinkle a little stardust into what can be a long four days of trying to attract inbound activity.