Published: 10:10, November 17, 2023 | Updated: 16:58, November 17, 2023
PDF View
Local heroes
By Amy Mullins

The Hong Kong film industry has seen a string of hits in the recent past and there may be more in the pipeline. Amy Mullins lists the ones to watch out for in the next few months.

Fly Me to the Moon. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Hong Kong’s film renaissance seems to be in full swing.

At the end of October, three local films cracked the top 10 among earners at the Hong Kong box office: My Heavenly City, starring perpetual favorite Keung To of the local boy band Mirror; horror film It Remains, thanks to the proximity of Halloween and another Mirror member, Anson Lo; and music film Band Four, with Cantopop favorites Kay Tse and Teddy Robin. On top of that, unofficial numbers for the first weekend of November had Lawrence Kan’s In Broad Daylight scoring a place in the top five. 

Fly Me to the Moon. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Jack Ng’s A Guilty Conscience famously kicked off 2023 with a record-breaking box-office haul, and as of now it is Hong Kong’s all-time champ, handily besting Ng Yuen-fai’s previous champ Warriors of Future (2022), with takings of over HK$110 million ($14.09 million). One of 2022’s biggest hits, Sunny Chan’s holiday comedy-drama Table For Six, gets a sequel this coming Lunar New Year.

At this past March’s Filmart, Ng told delegates that there needed to be at least two or three years of sustained activity and success for the industry to see a real renaissance, but it’s easy to see why movie-goers and filmmakers are excited. It’s possible that 2024 will mark the third year of big box-office collections — 2021’s Anita pulled in over HK$60 million — especially if the critical success and positive festival-audience response to a string of diverse local productions on the horizon translate into ticket sales.

Time Still Turns the Pages. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The first test will be Time Still Turns the Pages, first-time filmmaker Nick Cheuk’s painfully honest depiction of Hong Kong parents pushing their children to the extreme in the hope of securing their future and the trauma suffered as a result. 

Lo Chun-yip (Suk Suk) plays Mr Cheng, a high school teacher still reeling from the suicide of his brother years before, when he was in elementary school. Funded by Hong Kong’s hottest producer — the Arts Development Council’s First Feature Film Initiative (FFFI) — the film is an unwashed portrait of Cheng haunted by past trauma, and how one man’s personal tragedy can have a far-reaching impact. As Cheng’s parents, Rosa Maria Velasco and Ronald Cheng have the unenviable task of humanizing characters  that could easily be monsters, and both manage to make it clear that they feel trapped in their own ways, and also terrified of leaving behind children who are ill-equipped to deal with today’s world. 

Time Still Turns the Pages. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Pages is never a screed, but it does demand that viewers do some self-introspection. It’s an impressive debut, if not particularly easy to watch.

Next up and with a release date still to be confirmed (expect some of these around Lunar New Year) is another FFFI work, Sasha Chuk’s Fly Me to the Moon, based on her own semi-autobiographical book. Chuk counted Stanley Kwan and Jun Li as producers on the film, which chronicles the journey of a family from Hunan trying to make a life in the promised land of Hong Kong. 

Vital Sign. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The story is told from the point of view of Yuen as we find her in the years 1997, 2007 and 2017 — played by Chloe Hui, Yoyo Tse and Chuk herself respectively — trying to deal with her constantly shifting identity and well-meaning but drug-addicted father (Wu Kang-ren, Light the Night). 

Chuk’s debut is a master class in visual storytelling (she had help from production designer William Chang), one that makes the most of Hong Kong’s distinctly cramped spaces and unwritten social rules. As a domestic drama, it’s a lean, focused piece, dwelling on change, obligation, the cycles of poverty and addiction, reconciliation, and finally, familial bonds.

Vital Sign. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Hometown blues

DJ, stand-up comedian, actor, writer and director Cheuk Wan-chi’s Vital Sign strikes a less-harrowing but no less-timely note. The film stars Louis Koo as Ma Chi-yip, a paramedic struggling with chronic back pain and whose resistance to playing the political civil service game has kept him tied to an ambulance rather than a cushy desk job. The film starts with Ma taking on a new partner, young and brash Wong Wai (Yau Hawk-sau), who, unlike Ma, is happy to go with the flow. 

It’s a rescue thriller, so of course it ends with a multicar pileup in which Wong comes to understand Ma’s wisdom and skill. But underneath all of it is a thread about the widowed Ma considering immigrating to Canada with his young daughter. Ma’s inner struggle is about giving up the job he loves — his back will prevent him from becoming an emergency medical technician in Canada — and leaving his hometown. Vital Sign is one part rescue drama and one part poem. It’s a film that will resonate with those who have attended dozens of farewell parties in Hong Kong over the past few years. 

Four Trails. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Finally, in Four Trails, we have yet another love letter to Hong Kong — marked by serious physical “agony”. Director Robin Lee’s documentary about the notoriously taxing 298-kilometer Four Trails Ultra Challenge, founded by trail-runner Andre Blumberg in 2012, tracks the participants of the 2020 edition. For those unfamiliar with the race, trail runners are expected to cover the MacLehose (100km), Wilson (78km), Hong Kong (50km) and Lantau (70km) trails in 60 hours. No aids. No stages. No prizes. No stopping. 

Four Trails is constructed like any classic sports drama, complete with favorites and rivalries (though the runners are far friendlier than in other, less physically challenging, sprint competitions), dropouts and dark horses, underpinned by a common quest to try to complete the challenge in under 50 hours. The film is a gorgeous travelogue and a breathtaking portrait of Hong Kong at its most naturally beautiful, a reminder to all who live here just how fortunate they are to be so close to such biodiversity. 

Four Trails. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The record set in the film is from 2020 and has since been beaten (by Japanese runner Tomokazu Ihara this year) but you’ll be hard pressed not to gasp and cheer when the race’s finishers — or “survivors”, as the HK4TUC prefers to call them — reach that green mailbox in Mui Wo.

If you go

Time Still Turns the Pages

Written and directed by Nick Cheuk. Starring Lo Chun-yip, Sean Wong. 95 mins, IIB. Opens Nov 16.

Fly Me to the Moon

Written and directed by Sasha Chuk. Starring Angela Yuen and Wu Kang-ren. 111 mins.

Four Trails 

Directed by Robin Lee. Featuring Stone Tsang and Jacky Leung. 101 mins. 

Vital Sign

Written and directed by Cheuk Wan-chi. Starring Louis Koo and Yau Hawk-sau. 98 mins.