Hong Kong’s box office grew 29% in the first quarter of 2010, thanks to films like Avatar as well as new multiplex openings.

Hong Kong’s box office grew by a whopping 29% to reach $48.2m (HK$374m) in the first quarter of 2010, compared to $37.4m (HK$290m) in the same period last year, according to local industry body the Motion Picture Industry Association (MPIA).
Although Avatar, which has taken $21.9m in Hong Kong (including $13.5m since January 1), accounted for much of that growth, it’s not the only factor. Alice In Wonderland has also performed well, grossing $4.8m in three weeks. And long before the invasion of the blue aliens, Hong Kong’s box office had already been growing for three consecutive years from 2007-2009 – after stagnating around the $120m mark for most of the past decade. In 2009 it increased by 6.5% to reach $151.9m.
Local distributors and exhibitors say renewed interest in the cinema-going experience has contributed to growth – prompted by 3D in general, along with a spate of new multiplex openings. Hong Kong audiences are lapping up 3D and the territory now has around 80 3D-enabled screens out of a total of just over 200.
Avatar and other 3D releases have encouraged Hong Kong people to come back to the theatres, and not only watch television or computer downloads,” says MPIA CEO Brian Chung.
In fact, compared to the rest of Asia, where digital cinema roll-out has been slower, 3D in Hong Kong is delivering everything that the US studios hoped it would. “Although ticket prices really vary between different locations, 3D is usually around 50% higher than regular 2D films, and Hong Kong audiences are really willing to pay more,” says MCL general manager June Wong.
Developments in Hong Kong’s exhibition sector are also boosting box office or at least tipping it towards multiplex-friendly films. After several years of no significant cinema openings, a renewed confidence in Hong Kong’s real estate sector, coupled with a relaxation of the licensing deadlines, resulted in several new multiplexes. The most recent of these is UA Cinema’s iSquared complex in the busy shopping area of Tsim Sha Tsui, which has five houses including an Imax screen. It will soon be joined by Broadway Circuit’s six-screen The One, in a new shopping mall on Nathan Road.
Another encouraging development is that local productions are also experiencing box office growth. From January to March 2010, 13 Hong Kong productions grossed $12.9m (HK$100m), a 9% increase compared to the $11.8m (HK$92m) taken by 15 local titles in the first quarter of last year. This is due to a stronger and more diverse line-up of local product as Hong Kong producers have been enboldened by high returns from mainland China.
Over the lucrative Chinese New Year period, two martial arts movies – 14 Blades and True Legend – were released, along with two traditional local comedies – All’s Well, Ends Well Too and 72 Tenants Of Prosperity, the latter grossing an impressive $4.4m. In addition, Alex Law’s Echoes Of The Rainbow, a small 1960s-set family drama that wasn’t expected to do well, topped the Hong Kong chart in its third and fourth week of release and as of March 31 had grossed more than $2m. These are encouraging results for a market in which Hollywood films dominate and local productions usually only have a 20-25% market share.
“Hong Kong people are happy to see local kung-fu films and comedies as long as the quality is high,” says Broadway Circuit’s Tessa Lau. “Last year we only had one comedy at Chinese New Year, but this year there seems to be more interest in producing for the local market.”
However, despite the new cinema openings, both distributors and exhibitors say that Hong Kong remains under-screened, especially in densely populated areas where rents are high. Hong Kong only has 201 screens, compared to 206 five years ago, as some older sites have been closed down as new ones have opened. At peak periods, such and Christmas and Chinese New Year, it’s still difficult for distributors to secure screens and to hang on to them.
Echoes Of The Rainbow benefitted from a huge amount of local press interest in the fate of the street where it was filmed – which was due for re-development but has now been declared a heritage site. Without such publicity, it’s unlikely the film, which debuted at number six in the chart, would have been allowed to play long enough to garner strong word-of-mouth.  
NB. All figures US dollars.