Jackie Chan was one of the big stars to bring Hong Kong Cinema to worldwide attention. Between him, John Woo and Jet Li, the ideas of comedy martial arts, gun fu and wirework invaded the visual arts. In 1997, Hong Kong was handed back to Chinese control. Unfortunately, this essentially killed the industry.
Chan on Hong Kong: The Government, Cinema and Piracy
"Really strange," mused Chan. "British government, before 1997, they never support Hong Kong film. We had to hide the camera on the street, one, two, three, go! Roll. Bang, bang, bang, the real police come, 'Don't move!' 'Filming, filming.' We had to hide and they never close the road for us. At that time, we make 400 movies a year. It's a small country but third to America and India."
Perhaps adversity breeds ingenuity, and now there is no more motivation. "Now, 1997 the handover, the China government, they support. Now we can block the road, we can do whatever we do. Police come to help. No triads come to take money from the street. The movie, we make less than 40 movies a year. Most is low budget. Big budget, two, three, that's all. I don't know. The piracy, I don't know why. The movies just died."
Even the few films Chan can make in Hong Kong are not enough to revive the industry. "I try to help, that's why I go back to Hong Kong, start the company. The first governor, 'Jackie, come back. Don't only stay in America. Help.' I said yes so I start the company to make The Myth, Rob B Hood, New Police Story but it just doesn't help. The first day the movie comes out, the second day there's piracy all over. 50 cents all over the place."
Piracy is just too widespread for even one of the largest world governments to stop. "China government already now does a lot of things. The Hong Kong government does. But too big. The money is too big. They don't care. If you close it here, they open it here. All the people want quick money. The China government, where do you catch? You close one down, the second one comes up. And also, when we don't have the money, the money getting less, less, how can we make good quality movies?"
It doesn't help that the marketplace demands to see the product before investing. "Before in Hong Kong, you could see a lot of different kinds of movies. Now it's all triad, triad, triad, triad, triad. Gangster movie, gangster movie, all gangster. Then the whole world's thinking, 'Huh, Hong Kong, so many gang films.' But nobody makes action movie. Action movie, at least you need $10 million to make. Otherwise, small budget, under 300,000 or 400,000 to make local film. They count it, okay, half million, I can get 200,000 for the video and 200,000 for the DVD. These kinds of things. Okay, I can earn 20,000. Now, not like before. When we start the movie, Korea, Singapore, the money keeps coming, buyers. Now, 'Show me the film first, we buy it.' We don't have money to film."
Chan's name affords him a slight advantage, but he sympathizes with less fortunate artists. "Not like me, I'm the lucky one. When I start, the bank comes. Okay, then I can make a big project. I'm two years to make one movie or one year to make one Hong Kong film. It's not looking good but China is getting bigger. China, theater getting better, we're building more theaters. The China government supports new talent. I just started a company in China. I make 10 movies for 10 directors, all new from school. New directors, new writer, new cameraman, everything new. Everything around half million, 300,000 U.S. Then I got t he money from the bank, then I support them to make a film in China. Government supports me. China's getting better and better."