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Movie talk: Dramas VS Movies (Hong Kong)

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Life has many ironies, of which many would not be resolved in years. Customer service staff– in one of the few jobs that requires creative troubleshooting skills – are seldom given a pay scale as high as other more mundane but highly-respected work.

The affection of a sincere lover often goes unreciprocated when the person of his or her fancy remains mesmerised by another partner possessing a greater beauty, a bigger wallet or a more intense seductive touch.  Our heads demand logical rationalisation but our hearts desire love.

Along the same vein, it leaves me wondering if the same thing is happening to the Hong Kong film industry. While Hong Kong dramas become increasingly popular throughout Asia and beyond, Hong Kong movies seem to be spiralling down a slope. Considering that both movies and dramas have their roots in the same country, it seems unbelievable that the insights from the success of the dramas cannot be gleaned and applied in the production of films.

An age-old argument asserts that dramas span an average of 20 to 30 episodes and hence, there is sufficient time to familiarize the audience with the protagonists, antagonists and other characters in a drama. It is argued that this is challenging to achieve in movies that span a mere 2 to 3 hours. While this may be true in the past, I beg to differ when it comes to contemporary movies.

For modern Hong Kong flicks, the reason why they have lost their cinematic magic that resonates with audiences many years ago was not because of the limited screening time, which seems to imply that no movies will be able to create characters whom audiences are able to relate to. Just look at any Stephen Chow’s or Wong Jing’s movies, and we can see that most of their films are a success- both in the past and in the present.

In reality, the underlying reasons would most probably be the dearth of an engaging story. There are exceptions though, such as “Infernal Affairs” (2002) – which has been a great success. Its successor “Infernal Affairs II” (2003) and “Infernal Affairs III” (2003) didn’t fare as well. This is not surprising as creativity is a crucial element in generating engaging films and the first film of the “Infernal Affairs” trilogy did just that. A one-year interval between the first and the second/third film is just too short for a drastic breakthrough for the sequels.

Similarly, “The Sixth Sense” (1999) by director M. Night Shyamalan comes across as a cinematic gem  for audiences worldwide when the shocking ending was revealed but his subsequent work “The Last Airbender” (2010) did not fare as well at the movie box office.

Maintaining a creative touch is hard, which is why drawing inspirations from dramas is important. It will be a great idea if insights on character-driven dramas in Hong Kong can be drawn out and applied in movie-making. There are many great Hong Kong dramas in recent years, one of which is “The Life and Times of A Sentinel” (紫禁驚雷) (2011), starring Steven Ma (馬浚偉), Kenneth Ma (馬國明), and Power Chan (陳國邦).

The drama speaks of a dispirited albeit ambitious prince Fu-Tsuen (played by Kenneth Ma) who has yearned to be the emperor since young, a position which is eventually given to his younger brother Prince Hong-hei (played by Power Chan).

In the midst of fighting against his fate, Prince Fu-Tsuen realised that he is slated to be the emperor from the very beginning but his ascension to the throne has been thwarted by the Grand Empress Dowager Hao-Chong (played by Ching Hor-Wai) (程可為) who has found him too ruthless a person to be ruler of the land. Filled with hatred and vengeance, Prince Fu-Tsuen begins to devise a foolproof plan to usurp the throne from his younger brother. A loyal sentinel Nip Dor-po (played by Steven Ma) is thereby torn between his patriotic allegiance to the emperor and his brotherhood devotion to his master, Prince Fu-Tsuen.

While a spin-off movie can be created from the drama to promote viewership (thereby leveraging on the popularity of TV dramas), a long-term approach will be to study the intricate elements that contribute to the success of TV dramas such as this.

It’s ironic that there seems to be a dividing line between Hong Kong drama production and their movie counterparts. Having drama actors and actresses share their thoughts in the production work might inspire more creative Hong Kong films in the near future. And with insights from film directors, the filming duration for drama actors and actresses may also be reduced.

A creative convergence between Hong Kong movies and dramas may well serve as the panacea to revive its declining film industry.

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