Tam Pok Man, 20 years old, is a freelance filmmaker and photographer in Hong Kong. He shoots for events, makes short films as well as documentaries. Ten deals a month and one thousand HK dollars for each, he is able to make ends meet for the moment.
Even with a degree in filmmaking and being an aspiring young man, Tam still finds it difficult to enter the local film industry. “Especially for young people, because no one wants to investigate on an unknown fresh graduate. Also, the whole industry has been declining over the years, which makes it even harder,” said Tam.
In 2015, Hong Kong film industry released 49 films, compared to 51 in 2014 and about 300 per year during 1990s. The box office was topped by an American film last year and only two local films got into top ten. In 2014, local films only contributed 7.81% to the whole box office.
The shrinking industry causes the favor towards secure investment but the higher threshold for young filmmakers. The aging problem hits not only the Hong Kong society but also its film industry.
“In Chinese, we call it ‘Ceng wong bou zip’, a gap between the old and the young,” said Dr. Jason Ho, who teaches films and literature at the Department of Comparative Literature, The University of Hong Kong. “The filmmaking industry doesn’t really value young filmmakers or young actors. They don’t have the fame yet, thus the producers and investors don’t trust them.”
*Average age: from 1990 to 2003 – directors whose films ranked top ten in local box office; from 2004 to 2014 – directors whose films ranked top twenty in local box office; 2015 – all the directors who released their films in 2015.
The average age for the directors whose films released last year is 50.7 years old, compared to 44.7 ten years ago and 36.9 two decades ago. Half of them were born between 1940s to 1960s. Some of the big names in the 1990s is still the main force of today’s Hong Kong film festival, such as Johnnie To (61 years old) and Wong Jing (61 years old).
However, the success of a film is not always positively related to filmmaker’s age. The 35th Hong Kong Film Awards on April announced Ten years, a dystopian film directed and starred by young forces, to be the Best Film of the year. Another big winner Port of Call, directed by Philip Yung (37 years old), won seven awards at the same night.
In Hong Kong, some of the local education institutes are known for cultivating young filmmakers, such as Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, the Academy of Film at Hong Kong Baptist University and Hong Kong Design Institute. Every year, hundreds of students enter these institutes to pursuit their dreams in the motion picture industry.
“What do they do after they graduate? That’s quite sad but pretty much the reality,” said Dr. Jason Ho. Not many of them are able to work in the industry because of the limited positions. Ho said, a lot of his students graduate to be teachers, teaching English or cultural studies, where they can use some knowledge they gained from film studies.
Huang Sheng is one of the mainland students who are amazed by the prosperity of Hong Kong film industry in 1990s. He is now a master student in Cinema and Television production at Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts. He intended to acquire advanced filmmaking techniques from the two-year learning and also found a soil for his Chinese film creation. However, he is disappointed.
“Truly, the industry in Hong Kong is more rigorous than in the mainland, but it has poor prospect and seems to hit the bottom,” said Huang. “Also, the teaching focuses more on the filmmaking procedure rather than the quality of the works. What’s the point of sticking to the rules if we don’t have a good piece of art?”
Huang said he wouldn’t stay in Hong Kong after graduation. He plans to go back to the mainland because there are more opportunities, especially for filmmakers from mainland like himself.
However, it’s another picture for the Hong Kong graduates. Dr. Jason Ho said, many local young people rather stay in Hong Kong doing something else, instead of going to the mainland despite the bigger market. “Because everything is different, including the system. They’ll need a lot of time to adapt.”
On this February, Financial Secretary John Tsang said in the 2016-17 budget speech that 200 million HK dollars has been poured into Film Development Fund to impel local film creation and to encourage the young generation. A variety of events in order to thrive the industry have sprung up, including Sundance Film Festival in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Independent Short Film and Video Awards, First Feature Film Initiative. But behind the flourishing scene, the resources are stretched and young filmmakers are still struggling.
“We have an illusion that Hong Kong have a very big filmmaking industry. But that is not the case,” said Dr. Jason Ho. “There are a lot of old people working in the industry, who do not very welcome the young generation. It really takes a long time to let these old people leave so that young people can fill in their places.”