We go nuts for movies from all over Asia, but for all of us at the New York Asian Film Festival, our first love is Hong Kong movies. They were our gateway drug, and when the Music Palace, the last Chinatown movie theater in New York City, closed what brought us together was our desire to keep seeing Hong Kong movies. From that seed grew the New York Asian Film Festival, and the people who helped it grow have been the Hong Kong Economic Trade Office, New York.
Established in 1983, for 30 years the Hong Kong Economic Trade Office, New York, has weathered everything the world has thrown at it, and so on its 30th anniversary we’re happy to welcome it back as one of the NYAFF’s most important supporters. When the HKETO was first established, Hong Kong was still a British colony. Since then it has seen the 1997 Handover, the Asian Economic Crisis, SARs, and the 2007 Global Financial Crisis. In that time, the Hong Kong film industry has grown to become one of the biggest on the planet, suffered from an over-production bubble, totally collapsed, and then made a remarkable comeback.
In 2012 and 2013 the Hong Kong film industry has formed a split personality. On the one hand, big co-productions between Hong Kong and China have become the order of the day. With major stars like Chow Yun-fat, and major directors like Andrew Lau, these films are released in China and earn a lot of money, but they’re missing that bit of local spice. Even one of Hong Kong’s most important, and most local, directors, Johnnie To, has realized he needs bigger box office returns and he’s ventured to the Mainland with Drug War.
But there’s also been an explosion in popularity for local movies. Pang Ho-cheung’s Vulgaria (last year’s NYAFF opening night film) could never be shown in China due to its racy content, but it has spawned a genre of movies like Hardcore Comedy and made stars out of sex symbols like Dada Chan (one of this year’s guests). At the same time, local directors like Herman Yau have taken one of the biggest co-production successes, the Ip Man films, and turned them into a celebration of local history in Ip Man: The Final Fight. It’s a schizophrenic situation, but as long as it means more great movies are getting made we can’t argue.
When we first started working with the HKETO a few years ago, their biggest concern was to make sure that we were able to get the newest films from Hong Kong to show to our audience. Their support has been invalauable in persuading distributors to provide us with rare film prints at our retrospectives, and they’ve also helped us bring Hong Kong guests to NYC. When we first started 12 years ago we could only dream of meeting some of our filmmaking heroes. Today, with the help of the HKETO we have brought Sammo Hung, Wai Ka-fai, Tsui Hark, Simon Yam, Herman Yau, and Jackie Chan to New York. Sitting in the grubby, disreputable Music Palace almost 15 years ago, we had no idea that we would come this far. And that journey is thanks in part to the HKETO.