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Hong Kong as the gateway to China
By Staff Reporter
Tue, 16 July 2013, 13:10 PM (HKT)
Key figures in Greater China's entertainment business were among 200 government officials and executives who attended the Think Asia, Think Hong Kong event in New York and Los Angeles last month. It was the Hong Kong Trade Development Council 香港貿易發展局's largest business promotion event yet held in the US.
At the heart of the event, focusing on the entertainment industry, was a panel discussion held with Emperor Motion Pictures 英皇電影's Albert LEE 利雅博 and The Ruddy Morgan Organizations André MORGAN who discussed the role of Hong Kong as a gateway to China and its role creating "real co-productions".
Lee and Morgan began by reminiscing about their time as colleagues at Hong Kong's Golden Harvest Entertainment Co Ltd 嘉禾娛樂事業有限公司 in the late 1970s working for the legendary Raymond CHOW 鄒文懷. Both agreed that the film industry in both Hong Kong and China has "changed tremendously over the last 30-odd years".
Lee described China as the "so-called final frontier", noting that the Hong Kong industry has shifted its focus towards it's neighbour. Morgan said that in this endeavour the Hong Kong industry has been "incredible successful and has had a tremendous impact on the direction of Chinese cinema in the last ten years."
Lee argued that Chinese film companies are "still very much in the learning stage", noting that when he was at Golden Harvest in the early 1990s, he was involved in distributing the first revenue sharing films in China. "Over the next twenty years, we've seen the whole system grow to what it is today."
Morgan was more outspoken. "Trust me", he said, "There are very few sophisticated film companies in China, notwithstanding the size of the market and the speed with which it's growing. It's still the wild, wild west. It reminds me of Hong Kong forty years ago."
Morgan made the point that the Hong Kong industry has always been forced to stand on "its own commercial two feet", being "very good at seeking out new markets and new ways of reinventing itself" from the days of Bruce LEE 李小龍 to CHOW Yun-fat 周潤發 and "the wave of directors that came to Hollywood in the late 1980s".
Morgan, who can be off-message at conferences, was an unwavering champion of Hong Kong as a gateway to China: "I can assure you that you're better off to use Hong Kong as your starting point than either Shanghai or Beijing. Hong Kong has the experience of doing co-productions for the last forty years."
Morgan highlighted Hong Kong's legal system — noting the advantages of arbitrating disputes in Hong Kong rather than China — and the territory's free banking system, "which makes it very easy to pay people, which you don't have when you're in China trying to pay your actors back in America."
Further, Morgan pointed to the role of Hong Kong as "a great place to run your entire operation in Southeast Asia", identifying not only the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, but also Myanmar as an upcoming territory where "there's a lot of money".
On the subject of international sales, Lee said, "We've been trying that for the last thirty-odd years to varying degrees of success." He noted that there have been greater challenges over the last decade but that the market in China has compensated with its huge growing audience for local-language cinema.
Morgan was critical of The Karate Kid 功夫夢 (2010) and Iron Man 3, suggesting that "real co-productions that will be successful on a global basis will have a significant component that comes from Hong Kong, to bridge the cultural differences between what works in the China market versus what works outside of China."
Morgan was also critical of the recent flood of announcements about US-China co-ventures that have bypassed Hong Kong: "Chinese are the flavour du jour this year. But the truth is that most of those announcements will not come to a good end. Most of them will be money-losing disasters."
Lee argued that the major Hollywood studios may have the resources to enter China without partners, noting that most now have a mainland presences, but suggested that "from the point of view of independent companies, Hong Kong could serve as the ideal springboard for them to go into China."
Morgan concluded, "The Chinese are competing against each other as well as against the Hong Kong people coming up. And the last thing they need is a bunch of Americans trying to pile in behind them. So you might as well have Hong Kong partners that are already there and who have forged strategic alliances."
Other executives from the entertainment industry in attendance who gave talks during the Think Asia, Think Hong Kong event included Media Asia Group Holdings Ltd 寰亞傳媒集團有限公司's Peter LAM 林建岳 and The Walt Disney Company's Andy BIRD.