The seven films screening this weekend at New People Cinema and the Roxie in SFFILM’s ninth annual Hong Kong Cinema series are distinct in storytelling method and subject matter.
Director Jun Li, 27, presents a mainstream treatment of transgender issues in his first feature film, “Tracey.” It’s a subject not previously addressed in Hong Kong’s expansive cinema history.
Director Lee Cheuk-Pan, 33, veers into the experimental realm for a timely murder-mystery on police corruption with “G Affairs.”
And director Jessey Tsang provides a graphic exploration of female sexuality in “The Lady Improper.” It has been edited for its sexual content at previous sceenings, but won’t be at this weekend’s showcase on Sunday.
The slate reflects how today’s new and experienced Hong Kong-based filmmakers desire to tell unique stories. But the odds are still stacked against them.
“When I started working in the industry 14 years ago, there were maybe 100 or 200 Hong Kong movies in one year,” says Lee says in an interview, translated by his wife Justine Wong. “But recently, it’s only like 40 or 50 films a year. It’s kind of hard to have investors invest in something that has no superstar.”
Lee also shares how “G Affairs” was realized only after he received funding from First Feature Film Initiative, a Hong Kong government-backed program through which he was awarded 5.5 million Hong Kong dollars — a little over $700,000 — for the entire production.
Lee’s experience strikes a similar chord with Jun Li, who also was raised, and is based, in Hong Kong.
Both say the film industry is increasingly pressured to cater to mainland Chinese markets. It often means investors make more room for generic, blockbuster-type films with A-list celebrities, and less for original local stories starring new faces.
“A lot of local filmmakers won’t find making Hong Kong films profitable at all,” Li says. “Investors tend to find new directors because we are willing to cut our costs and we are not paid very adequately.”
Rod Armstrong, lead programmer of Hong Kong Cinema, also has noticed the number of unique regional stories coming from Hong Kong dwindling in recent years.
“There was a lot of pressure to make films that could also be released in the mainland, [but] Hong Kong has this reputation for more extreme types and styles of cinema,” Armstrong, who has curated the series since its inception in 2011, says. “That I think caused some directors either to not get funding or perhaps move to another locale to try other types of filmmaking.”
Though a relatively small number of original films premiered in 2018, when “G Affairs” and “Tracey” were released, Lee still sees potential in Hong Kong cinema, citing some continued funding from the government and no creative deficit from Hongkongers.
This weekend’s series should illustrate that.
IF YOU GO
SFFILM Hong Kong Cinema
Where: New People Cinema, 1746 Post St, S.F.; Roxie, 3117 16th St, S.F.
When: Friday through Sunday
Tickets: $14 to $16 per film
Contact: (415) 561-5000, www.sffilm.org
Tracey: 7:30 p.m. Friday at New People; 1 p.m. Saturday at Roxie
G Affairs: 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Roxie
The Lady Improper: 4:30 p.m. Sundayat Roxie