An award supported by HAF and Fox International Productions nurtures new voices in Chinese-language cinema. Liz Shackleton introduces this year’s finalists

Launched in 2012, the HAF/Fox Chinese Film Development Award aims to identify interesting Chinese-language projects from talented young film-makers and help them through the development process and into production.

The initiative, jointly established by Hong Kong - Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) and Fox International Productions (FIP), is open to Chinese-language projects from anywhere in the world. Each year, a shortlist of around four or five projects is selected following two rounds of reading, then the finalists pitch their projects to a panel of judges during HAF (which runs this year March 24-26). The winner receives a cash prize of $13,000 (hk$100,000) and a development contract with FIP.

“We’re looking for three things - creativity, originality and possibility,” explains Carrie Wong, head of production and development, FIP Greater China. “We look at whether it’s possible for a young director to make the project - for example are they being realistic about cast - and does it have creative and original ideas.”

This year the finalists include fantasy drama Sisters Snake from Singaporean film-maker Ong Meng; psychological thriller Game Of Suspects from Hong Kong’s Ben Lee Cheuk-pan; The Solitary Pier, an animation from Taiwan’s Jack Shih; and Chinese director Shu Haolun’s romantic drama Love Is Speaking (see details below). All four projects have female producers on board, although Wong says this is a happy coincidence rather than by design.

Judging the finalists’ pitches will be Taiwanese film-maker Giddens Ko, whose credits include 2011 hit You Are The Apple Of My Eye; Hong Kong producer Mathew Tang (Finding Mr Right) and Beijing-based producer Abe Kwong (Lost In Thailand).

Previous winners of the award include Hong Kong film-maker Sammie Lau with suspense drama Two Graves, which took the first HAF/Fox award in 2012, and 2013 joint winners The Flying Postman (aka Qing Gong), from Singapore’s Han Yew Kwang, and Underground River from China’s Gong Zhaohui. All three of those projects are currently in active development.

Finalists for the HAF/Fox Chinese Film Development Award 2014

Game Of Suspects (HK)
Dir Ben Lee Cheuk-pan

Ben Lee Cheuk-pan’s crime thriller revolves around an investigation into the murder of a housewife. Four different people - the deceased’s husband, their daughter, a young teacher and a boy who has lost his memory - each tell a different story.

Lee has previously directed music videos, short films and current affairs programmes. He was also assistant director on the Hong Kong shoot for Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011). Flora Goh, who produced Herman Yau’s The Second Coming (2014) and Ong Meng’s Little Medium Boy (in post), is producing the film through Hong Kong and Singapore-based Scout Pictures.

Love Is Speaking (Chi)
Dir Shu Haolun

Based on a story that was posted on the Chinese social-networking site, Weibo, this romantic drama from Shu Haolun tells the story of a woman who runs into her first love at a marriage registration office. When both of their future spouses fail to arrive, the former couple decide to marry each other. Shu studied film in the US, directed award-winning documentaries and made his narrative feature debut in 2010 with No. 89 Shimen Road, which was distributed by Switzerland’s Trigon Film. Love Is Speaking will be produced through Shanghai-based Hours Production, which Shu established with producer Le Bei and art director Xian Ruiqing.

Sisters Snake (Sing-US)
Dir Ong Meng

Singaporean director Ong Meng is transplanting Chinese fable Legend Of The White Snake to a dystopian, contemporary setting in fantasy drama Sisters Snake. The project tackles issues such as the environment, displacement and families through the story of two snake sisters who take on human form when they are forced to leave their forest sanctuary and live in the big city.

Ong is also producing with New York-based Hisami Kuroiwa, who was a producer on Hal Hartley’s Flirt and Wayne Wang’s Smoke. She also produced Ong’s debut feature Miss Wonton (2001). Ong also has Little Medium Boy in post-production.

The Solitary Pier (Tai)
Dir Jack Shih

Jack Shih’s animated feature, inspired by memories of his grandfather, tells the story of an old fisherman who lives alone on a pier until one day a strange woman comes to visit. When the local villagers start to lose fishes, the old fisherman tries to fight back to restore the natural balance.

Shih, who is making his feature debut with the project, studied experimental animation at California Institute of the Arts and has worked as an independent animation director in Taiwan for more than a decade. Dai Hsin-ping, who previously produced Shih’s short animations A Happy Wish and Fly Out Blue, will produce The Solitary Pier.