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Background of the Hong Kong Film Industry


Hong Kong cinema and the evolution of Hong Kong is a story of cultural crossroads, pioneering spirit, and artistic revolution. The development of Hong Kong’s film industry, from the beginning of the early 20th century to now, is a different age with its characteristics and challenges. The industry started as a product of interactions between global cinematic movements and local cultural dynamics. Today, it is one of the main players in the global film market. Nevertheless, one should note that the latest developments in Hong Kong cinema have exhibited a worrying loss of genre, theme, and aesthetic variation compared to the range that was a hallmark of this industry’s heyday. This paper delves into the origins and history of this industry as it examines the basis for the contemporary situation of little diversity in Hong Kong movies.

Historical Roots and Early Development

Hong Kong cinema started to develop in the 20th century under global and local influences of cinematic movements and cultures. The world over, the Lumière Brothers’ Cinématographe show in Paris in 1895 is considered the birthday of filmmaking or the cinema, including Hong Kong. The first exhibition of Cinemagraph in Hong Kong in 1897 and the screening of Exotic Western Pictures set the pace for local film culture. Li Minwei’s establishment of the oldest Chinese-owned film production company, China Sun Motion Picture Company, 1923 was a major stride (Chan, 2020). This was when several local production houses emerged, making films influenced by Chinese opera. These films reflected local tastes and stories. Nonetheless, the industry had its challenges, including the 1925 strike that crippled all kinds of commerce, including film production. The identity of Hong Kong cinema was later influenced by these early struggles and triumphs that shaped those films that influenced global cinemas later.

Chung (2007) notes that mixing traditional Chinese themes with contemporary cinematic ideas resulted in a new form of storytelling. This combination of East and the West was enjoyed locally and attracted international viewers, paving the way for Hong Kong’s cinemas to become a major cultural export. These formative years for the industry built the resilience and adaptability that paved the way for the innovation and dynamism that the region would later associate with as the foundation stone for innovative and dynamic cinemas produced by Hong Kong in subsequent years. Hong Kong cinema found its voice during the 1950s through movies produced in Mandarin, Cantonese, Amoy, and Chaozhou dialects. The variety of ethnicities in Hong Kong demonstrated its role as a cultural conglomerate and a movie export hub. In this process, the emergence of Cantonese cinema, particularly opera movies such as ‘White Gold Dragon’ (1933), was very influential (Wang, 2019). Nevertheless, political interventions, including the Nationalist government’s forbidance of Cantonese films in 1937, affected the progress of the industry. The movement of Mainland filmmakers into the Hong Kong region during wartime introduced novel skills, fresh resources, and distinctive movie culture, which helped the local film industry surpass the obstacles that the industry experienced.


The rising trend of co-productions with Mainland China is one of the major reasons for the limited diversity in Hong Kong cinema. Since the introduction of CEPA in 2004, numerous co-production films have been witnessed (Law, 2018). This has ensured financial stability and allowed entry into a bigger market under a stringent Mainland censorship system. Such limitations often require compliance with specific themes and storylines that correspond to the political and nationalistic ideology prevalent in Mainland China and, thus, standardize content. In addition, since there is a huge market in the Mainland, producers and filmmakers are incentivized to create stuff that appeals to Mainland viewers. As a result of this concentration, Teo (2019) posits that there has been an overwhelming decrease in the production of quintessential Hong Kong stories that were renowned for having a melange of cultural, colloquial, and gritty urban essence. This, in turn, has forced the Hong Kong movie genre to assimilate the Mainland’s preferences and, as such, diluted the distinct Hong Kong movie identity, undermining the richness and creativity that the industry was previously renowned for.

Economic challenges have largely influenced the declining diversity in the Hong Kong film industry. Since they operate in a relatively small local market and face stiff competition from Hollywood movies and other foreign films, Hong Kong filmmakers usually feel this burden in their pockets (Yeh & Chao, 2018). As a result, movie producers are cautious and prefer to stick to formula and safe genres instead of innovation and high-risk ventures. In addition, the cost of production in Hong Kong is very high, making it hard for indie filmmakers and new talents to raise funds for their out-of-the-box projects. Moreover, some studios and producers have invested in lucrative blockbusters as these films are already a known commodity within certain genres. Emphasis on profitability as the priority rather than artistry has suppressed creativity and created a tiring and monotonous environment around cinema movies (Cheung & Tsoi, 2018). The lack of support and investment in experimental and niche films was once the Hong Kong New Wave hallmark and has also further contributed to the disappearance of diversity in film genres, themes, and aesthetics.

According to Chen and Shih (2019), many changes in audience preferences and culture have influenced the development of Hong Kong cinema. The millennial generation audiences are very influenced by the global media and entertainment and, therefore, have tastes that, most of the time, are similar to the internationally acceptable standards and styles. The globalization of audience preferences has forced local filmmakers to produce movies that may be appreciated locally and abroad, which has often led to the loss or diversion of specific Hong Kong characteristics in films. Additionally, the emergence of digital streaming platforms and internet media has brought a new way of consuming content by audiences. This has increased demand for different and readily available content that no longer focuses on traditional cinema. As a result, filmmakers and studios have had to adapt their content in order to work well on these platforms, which sometimes undermines the cultural aspect that made classic Hong Kong movies (Chang, 2019).


“Hong Kong Cinematic Renaissance” is an innovative and comprehensive approach to rejuvenating the Hong Kong movie scene. This program is not only about unearthing and nurturing talent but also about re-lighting Hong Kong cinema’s creative soul. The program offers access to education, practical experience, and community support to empower tomorrow’s filmmakers and ensure the continuation of Hong Kong in the global cinema environment.


Chan, W. K. (2020). Beyond nationhood: Border and coming of age in Hong Kong cinema. Global Media and China5(2), 154–168.

Chang, J. J. (2019). Screening Communities: Negotiating Narratives of Empire, Nation, and the Cold War in Hong Kong Cinema. In Google Books. Hong Kong University Press.

Chen, S., & Shih, E. (2019). City branding through cinema: the case of postcolonial Hong Kong. Journal of Brand Management26(5), 505–521.

CHUNG, S. P.-Y. (2007). Moguls of the Chinese Cinema: The Story of the Shaw Brothers in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore, 1924–2002. Modern Asian Studies41(4), 665–682.

Law, W. (2018). Hong Kong’s Cinematic Beginnings, 1896–1908. Indiana University Press EBooks, 122–128.

Wang, Y. (2019). Local identity in a global city: Hong Kong localist movement on social media. Critical Studies in Media Communication36(5), 1–15.

Yeh, E. Y., & Chao, S. (2018). Policy and creative strategies: Hong Kong CEPA films in the China market. International Journal of Cultural Policy, pp. 1–18.


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