Battered Hong Kong Film Industry Hopeful of Oscar-led Revival
When the envelopes announcing this year's Academy Awards are opened on Sunday, film-crazy Hong Kong could well be celebrating its first-ever Oscar winners - with accompanying hopes for a revival for its battered movie industry.
No Hong Kongers have previously even been nominated, so this year's crop of four possible winners has raised high expectations of a breakthrough.
Appropriately enough for the home of the genre, they have all been put forward for a martial arts film, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", the Chinese-language romantic epic up for 10 awards.
Although directed by Taiwan's Ang Lee and filmed mainly in mainland China, Hong Kong can proudly take credit for some of the lavishly-praised film's most highly-praised elements.
Tim Yip could even receive two Oscars, for Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction, recognition of the film's lavish historical feel, for which cinematographer Peter Pau is also nominated.
Also in the frame is producer Bill Kong, who will share the spoils if "Crouching Tiger" takes the coveted Best Picture award.
"The nominations are good news and very exciting," said Law Kar of the Hong Kong Film Archive.
"People like Peter Pau are very popular in the industry, although some would say it's not a Hong Kong film."
Hong Kong director Teddy Chan said the biggest benefit from the phenomenal success of "Crouching Tiger" in America was that it showed sub-titled films could be mainstream blockbusters and not just art-house exotica.
"We have to thank Ang Lee for one thing -- now if we make a film we can make it in our own language, that is something great," said Chan, who directed local action superstar Jackie Chan in his latest Cantonese film, The Accidental Spy.
"Even if Hong Kong does not get any Oscars, we are winners because of that."
The territory's industry, the world's third-largest behind America and India only six years ago, could use a boost as it continues the long recovery from a slump caused by the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
Output fell to one third of its previous level and production quality dipped, a process hastened by the exodus to Hollywood of leading lights such as director John Woo, Jackie Chan, and -- until tempted back to Asia for "Crouching Tiger" - actor Chow Yun Fat.
Even though matters have improved, the territory's government launched a three million dollar revival package only two months ago to nurture the industry's long-term development.
Law of the Film Archive said that although around 160 films were expected to be made this year, things were well below the "golden age" of the late 1980s.
"Things are getting better anyway, but the Oscar nominations is a good thing."
However he predicted that whatever benefits resulted, a rush of copycat martial arts films was unlikely.
"Some companies will make martial arts films but they won't really make a real comeback.
"In Hong Kong they will be making films for a Chinese audience and martial arts films are not so popular. 'Crouching Tiger' was not a blockbuster in Hong Kong."
Instead, he predicted, gangster films of the sort the territory has been frantically churned out in recent years would roll out at an even faster rate.
"It is easier to make gangster films, and a lot cheaper." he said.
"You don't have to worry about making special costumes and sets, like castles.
"You just have someone firing a gun in the street." -- AFP
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