Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that Hong Kong film practitioners must follow local rules if they are to enter the Chinese market, under new measures promoting “further development” of the Hong Kong movie industry in the mainland.

Lam said at a regular press briefing on Tuesday that the measures were designed to address the demands of the local film industry: “Hong Kong is very proud of our freedom of expression and so we welcome movie makers to make the best use of that freedom of expression to [make] a diversity of movies,” she said. “But if these movies have to be screened or made in another jurisdiction then, of course, they have to follow the rules and regulations of that jurisdiction.”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo: Screenshot.

The five relaxation measures introduced by Beijing on Tuesday include:

  • removing restrictions on the number of Hong Kong people participating in the production of mainland films;
  • removing restrictions on the proportion of artists and requirement of mainland plots in China-Hong Kong co-productions;
  • waiving fees for establishing China-Hong Kong co-productions;
  • allowing Hong Kong film and film practitioners to apply for mainland awards;
  • allowing Hong Kong film companies to apply for incentives to distribute and promote mainland movies and China-Hong Kong co-productions overseas.

Previously, under the 2003 Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, at least one-third of the cast of any China-Hong Kong joint film productions had to be mainland actors.

Dr Wilfred Wong, chairman of the Hong Kong Film Development Council, said in a statement that the industry body welcomed measures: “[A]llowing Hong Kong films to participate in mainland’s film awards would raise the reputation and recognition of Hong Kong films in the Mainland market, while the incentive scheme for distribution and promotion would encourage Hong Kong film companies to promote outstanding Mainland films and co-productions, thereby helping expand markets for film industries of the two places.”

Meanwhile, Edward Yau, secretary for commerce and development, said that the relaxation measures will enable both mainland and local film industries to develop.

“With a wealth of talent who are flexible and of global vision, there is huge potential for the Hong Kong film industry to further develop in the Mainland market. I hope that the film industry will tap the new measures, while [continuing] to leverage existing advantages, to expand Mainland and overseas markets and further promote the brand of ‘Hong Kong Films’,” he said.

Tax systems

The announcement was largely welcomed by the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers. However, its Secretariat told HKFP that some of its members were concerned about whether Hong Kong film professionals will be required to abide by mainland tax systems. “The tax system in China is totally different, and Hong Kong people don’t know if they have to pay mainland tax or Hong Kong tax,” they said. “We hope this issue will be clarified by government officials.”

Dr Wilfred Wong, chairman of the Hong Kong Film Development Council. Photo: Screenshot.

Despite Hong Kong authorities’ attempts to boost the domestic film industry, foreign films make up the largest share of the local market. Last year, the highest grossing foreign film Avengers: Infinity War earned over HK$153.3 million, while the top Hong Kong film Agent Mr. Chan took in a paltry HK$44.7 million, according to statistics from the Hong Kong Box Office Limited.

While China’s box office revenue grew by 9 per cent to 60.98 billion yuan (HK$71.26 billion) last year, with foreign productions making up nearly half of all films but pocketing a fraction earned by domestic movies, state media reported.

Lam announced an HK$1 billion injection into the Film Development Fund in her 2018 Policy Address last October with the aim of “nurturing” local talent.

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Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.