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Comparing Hong Kong and Hollywood Film Industries

In: Film and Music

Submitted By Angelo415
Words 2037
Pages 9
Angelo Cupani
Film 262
4/6/14
Hong Kong: An Industry Born on a Budget Hong Kong has often been referred to as the “Hollywood of the East”. Although there are qualities of the Hong Kong film industry, which do indeed resemble those of Hollywood, implying that Hong Kong’s film industry is simply a second-tier version of Hollywood’s is an injustice to the unique industry model that Hong Kong has developed since the mid 20th century. Multiple factors, namely economic, have driven Hong Kong filmmakers to adapt different methods of production and exhibition than Hollywood filmmakers, resulting a in a distinct style of cinema that maximizes profits and controls costs, and has proven itself successful. Many of the unique practices of Hong Kong cinema stem from the industry’s tendency to push films through the production process much more quickly than the typical Hollywood film, and on a much smaller budget. The pace at which Hong Kong films are made is unmatched, proven by director Tsui Hark who went from script to release in less than two moths with his film Chinese Feast. The speed at which these films are released is driven by exhibition. With most production companies throughout Hong Kong film history being vertically integrating, including Shaw Brothers and Cinema City, the goal has been to push as many films through their own theaters as quickly as possible, with rapid turnover rates. Unlike Hollywood films, which can often stay in theaters for a month or longer, Hong Kong films usually only make theatrical runs of a week or two. By limiting the amount of time a film stays in theaters after its “hype” has died down, profits can be maximized, which is the ultimate goal for production companies. Exhibition even further drives production speeds often times, due to set release dates by foreign investors. Unlike Hollywood which often receives financing for its films from banks, television companies, or subsidies, Hong Kong films are usually funded by individual foreign investors, from countries such as Taiwan, and distribution/exhibition firms. Many investors will often only donate once a release date has been set. With such emphasis on the speed of production, methods much different than those of Hollywood’s, in regards to cinematography and scripting, needed to be made. In order to save time, as well as money on film stock, use of a master shot or “sandwich” style shooting, the method often used in Hollywood, is not used by Hong Kong filmmakers. Instead, segment shooting, a method by which the camera is moved to a new location for each shot is used. This if often not considered the easiest method of shooting a film because it is extremely labor intensive. However, the inability for Chinese employees to unionize allows for production companies to have their employees work long hours under these conditions (during Hong Kong’s peak years, 12-15 hours a day) for minimal pay, and films have often completed shooting in just over a month. This shooting format, however, helps to distinguish Hong Kong films from Hollywood films, supplying incredible shot variation, which provides audiences with a cinematographic experience particular to Hong Kong. This method of shooting can clearly be identified when watching the final scene of Jackie Chan’s Police Story. In this scene, which is comprised of hundreds of different camera shots, only a select few are repeated. Diversifying the camera shots helps to highlight and intensify the acrobatic choreography that occurs during this scene, including a whole lot of glass shattering. Just as Hong Kong’s production methods differ from Hollywood’s due to time constraints and cost control, scripting and plot structure do as well. In Hollywood, a project is usually launched on the basis of a script that has gained interest from a director and/or a producer. At this point a studio will invest in the script, and often go through rewrites of the script for multiple years, and several years pass before it hits the screen, if it ever does. The Hong Kong scriptwriting process is much less in depth than that of Hollywood. A Hong Kong film usually starts as an idea of a director, who then hires a scriptwriter to write a simple synopsis. With only this synopsis, a budget, and a cast list, a director then meets with potential investors. After funding has been secured, directors often call upon several writers to have a group discussion regarding the script. This is seen as being the most efficient way to develop a plot that a director can work with, however the final script still comes nowhere near the depth of a Hollywood script. With such little focus on the scriptwriting process, it is needless to say that Hong Kong films do not have the most complex of plotlines. Characters development is almost never extensive. As Bordwell notes in his book, the script simply becomes a pretext for a parade of splendors, the splendor being the aesthetically appealing action scenes that Hong Kong is known for. Actors are often given their lines the morning of shooting, and are given only minutes to prepare. Some directors, such as Lau Kar-leung simply have their actors say numbers instead of words, because the dialogue is not of importance, and the scene will likely be dubbed in post-production anyway. Wong Kar-wei has even been said to write dialogue on a napkin at breakfast before shooting begins. This lack of character development and plot complexity can be observed, for example, in any Bruce Lee movie. Lee never plays the most complex of characters, and his motives are usually simple (often fueled by revenge). Without knowing much else about Lee’s character, the rest of the film relies on the plethora of action scenes that take up the majority of screen time. This can be seen in Lee’s film, Fist of Fury, in which Lee plays a martial arts student who has just been struck with the death of his beloved master. The entirety of the film revolves around Lee’s craving to avenge his master, and focuses little on developing Lee as a character. This trend can be seen in later films as well, including in A Better Tomorrow, directed by John Woo, a man who is often considered to be a Hollywood-style director. In this film, although some connection is established between brothers Ho and Kit, any character development in this film is overshadowed by people getting shot in the leg and blood splattering the walls. Hong Kong characters contain very little character arc, or change, as characters do in Hollywood films. For example, Bordwell discusses how in the Hollywood film The Untouchables, throughout the film Elliot Ness is taught to be more flexible and pragmatic. However, in the Hong Kong film Gun Men, a film with a similar plotline to The Untouchables, Ding (the equivalent to Ness) is simply devoted to rooting out corruption and avenging his colleagues death, making no significant change within himself at any point in the film. To even further increase the efficiency of the scriptwriting process, Hong Kong films almost always follow a standard nine reel format. Originally, Hong Kong films were normally 9 reels (90-100 minutes) to maximize the number of showings a theater could have in a day. However, in the 1980’s, directors began to use the reels as units of plot construction. The beginning, reels 1-3, often serve to grab the audience’s attention and establish all major characters. Reels 4-6 develop the story and reach a central crisis. The final three reels often contain a climactic action scene, as well as a brief resolution to the conflict to conclude. Each reel is intended to have something new and/or exciting happening to keep the audience’s attention, so Hong Kong films tend to have plotlines that are more episodic than those of Hollywood, often containing “filler” scenes. This method differs from the three-act structure typically used in Hollywood films, in which different plot points are tightly connected by the events that take place in the film. A film that exemplifies this reel-by-reel, episodic structure is Private Eyes, directed by Michael Hui. In this film, detective Wong teams up with Lee, a kung fu expert in desperate need of a job, to serve the clients of the Mannix Private Detective agency. The first hour of the film is filled with entertaining scenarios such as the two attempting to bust a cheating husband, a scene in which sausage is used as nun-chucks, and even one in which yoga stretches are mistaken for duck preparation instructions. In other words, a handful of these scenes are virtually “throw away” scenes, which do not necessarily advance the plot, but rather are loosely based on the plot and serve purely as entertainment for the audience, as opposed to the typical Hollywood film which consists of tightly knit chains of actions and reactions, as well as specific goals being established and fulfilled. The central conflict of the film, if you can even call it that, does not arise until approximately 2/3 of the way through the film, when Wong and Lee are caught in the midst of a movie theater robbery. This scene, just as the others, is loaded with comedic gags, and its conclusion, which involves the criminals mistakenly hopping in the back of a freezer truck driven by Lee, is not the most thought out of endings. When using this structure, successful plotlines and motifs are often recycled to sure-up profits, as well as provide clarity and familiarity for the audience. For example, A Better Tomorrow was based off of a 1967 film called Story of a Discharged Prisoner, and then went on to have two sequels made after that. Similarly, Wong Jing’s God of Gamblers not only had prequels and sequels, but other filmmakers openly imitated and parodied it. Stock characters, or motifs that define characters, are re-used just the same as plot lines. For example, the main character in a kung-fu movie being driven by revenge or honor, or the Japanese being the enemy in a historical action movie. Post-production follows the same high speed, low cost, format of the production and scripting aspects of Hong Kong filmmaking. Bordwell explains that the editing process in Hollywood typically takes between five and six months. Hong Kong filmmakers, however, generally need only two to three weeks to assemble their films. The segment style shooting methods that they practice greatly contribute to the speed of this process, because each camera location belongs to a specific action/moment in the film. As a result, the editing in Hong Kong films is much quicker than the typical Hollywood film, with many of the shots lasting under three seconds. The dubbing of sound is also a major part of post-production in Hong Kong. Although Hollywood does use dubbing occasionally for dialogue, most of it is captured on set using high-powered microphones, and often in a sound controlled environment. Hong Kong filmmakers, however, are not often given this luxury. Sound equipment is expensive, especially in the context of the tight budgets that Hong Kong filmmakers have to work with (on average $6.4 million [U.S.] for Blockbusters and $1 million for typical features during peak years). Hong Kong films are also often shot on location, which makes capturing quality sound on set a little more difficult. Dubbing is also convenient for Hong Kong films because most films need versions in Mandarin and Cantonese, as well as English for exportation purposes. The lack of emphasis on the dialogue/script however, and Hong Kong films’ ability to convey stories visually, makes dubbing a fairly speedy process that takes away very little from the overall quality of the film. The Hong Kong film industry has survived for one key reason, and that is its ability to mass produce films with budgets that are fractions of those that Hollywood gets to work with. The phenomenal pace at which filmmakers are forced to produce these films originates purely from the economic benefits, however it has created a style of film that stands alone from all other mass media industries in the world, including Hollywood.

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