The Hong Kong Film Festival kicks off tomorrow with City Under Siege. Festival director Raymond Suen spoke to us last week, outlining the festival selections, its expansion into its second edition, and the delights and difficulties of programming Cantonese-language films.
Last year’s inaugural festival programmed five films, (Beast Stalker, Protegee, Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon, True Women For Sale, The Way We Are), curated by Alex Lee and sourced with the assistance of Hong Kong’s Economic and Trade Office (HKETO), which again supports the festival this year.
Chairman and Founding Trustee of the Asian New Zealand Films Foundations, Alex Lee, said distributors in Hong Kong are keen to be involved with the Hong Kong Festival in Auckland as they are aware of growing interactions between Hong Kong and NZ, including the recent programme of events at Hong Kongfs Cyberport featuring Weta’s Richard Taylor and the hosting of Greg Broadmore’s Dr. Grordbort’s exhibition.
Last weekend Hong Kong’s best-known actor, Jackie Chan, dropped 500,000 yuan (c$100,000) at the Shanghai International Film Prototype Exhibition charity auction, taking away one of Weta Workshop’s dinosaur miniatures from King Kong.
This year, the festival also has support from Chinese media in NZ, mainly the United Chinese Press, Mandarin Pages and Chinese Herald, who see the festival as an opportunity for Chinese New Zealanders to retain some access to their native culture.
Radio advertising on Chinese language stations also helps drive ticket sales. The strategy is both cost-effective, reaching a natural audience that mainstream NZ media often doesn’t reach, and productive. Less than a week after the radio campaign commenced, the best-known film in the festival, Alex Law’s Echoes of the Rainbow, sold out its only festival screening. The film, winner of the Crystal Bear (Generation) at February’s Berlinale as well as several Asian and HK awards, is set in 1960s Hong Kong, skews to an older audience, making radio advertising a smart choice.
The film’s distributors would only allow a single screening at the festival, as no distribution deal has yet been done for NZ. Based on the sell-out screening, negotiations are now in progress for further screenings once the festival has concluded its run.
While the Cantonese language prevalent in Hong Kong and south west China is a blessing for attracting a Cantonese-speaking audience, it does present challenges for the programmers. Cantonese is spoken quickly. For those who believe that any foreign language sounds fast, Cantonese really is. It presents a challenge for subtitling, allowing viewers to read and keep up with the action.
Cantonese language films often make use of word-play (and taking the piss out of Mandarin speakers, who are extremely s-l-o-w by comparison). Neither approach translates well for non-Cantonese speakers. Raymond Suen explained that of the dozens of films that the programmers watched, several had to be excluded from the festival for that reason, as the programmers wants to attract a NZ audience as well as ex-pat Chinese.
Sponsors Rialto (part of Event Cinemas) have a more business-like approach to their own involvement, both as the Auckland home of many of the international and genre festivals that run over the next few months, and also (through Event’s Cinema Asia programme) as an exhibitor already operating in that market.
Event/Cinema Asia has worked with distributors to develop a strategy of screening Asian releases day-and-date, or as close as possible, and presents City Under Siege day-and-date with its HK release.
The festival runs 12-18 August at Rialto.