Hong Kong's reputation as a voracious market for action films may be set to change - a faltering economy and widespread distaste for violence post-September 11 means that light-hearted films are expected to outperform traditional action fare during the all-important Christmas and Chinese New Year holiday season.

Six of last year's top 10 films in Hong Kong were local productions, of which four were action films. But last week's release - straight in at number one in the chart - of Joe Ma's screwball comedy, Dummy Mommie, Without A Baby, could mark the beginning of a new trend in the territory's movie tastes.

Winter, as opposed to summer, has always been blockbuster season in Hong Kong. Local movie companies trying to avoid a head-to-head confrontation with Hollywood's big-budget special-effects and pyrotechnic action films traditionally keep their strongest titles for Christmas and Chinese New Year - which falls between late January and mid-February, depending on the lunar calendar. And this year the festive menu looks substantially different from previous seasons'.

"Action movies won't do well. In the eyes of the audiences, there were way too many this summer, so we do not need more at Christmas," says China star Entertainment's general manager Ann Hung. "You need to have simple, light-hearted stories; stories with a direct message with morals that are black and white. Quality scriptwriting will be more important than ever."

China star has two such films in store for Chinese New Year: romantic comedy Looking For Mr Perfect and a comedy starring megastar Andy Lau and Cecilia Cheung. Golden Harvest will also pair Sammi Cheng and Richie Ren - the winning couple from hit romance Summer Holiday - in another romantic comedy, How To Marry A Rich Man.

Only last week, (Screendaily Nov 18, 2001) leading director Joe Ma established a new Hong Kong production company, Singing Horse, to deliver a slate of between five and seven comedies and romantic comedies a year.

Ma agrees that Hong Kong audiences will prefer light-hearted genres this season, saying, "People want to escape, they do not want to have to use their brains or think about life." As evidence, he cites the strong $2.31m (hk$18m) gross of China Star's La Brassiere, which was released mid-September.

In September, Ma released Funeral March, a sombre romance between a young funeral director and a terminally ill girl. "I definitely won't be making a film like that any time soon," he jokes. He says he is only considering comedy scripts for his next project.

But If there is one film that perhaps best reflects this shift towards light-hearted movies, it is director Derek Yee's Tic Tac Too for Filmko Pictures, a company established barely more than a year ago. Set for release later next year, Tic Tac Too will take a humorous look at life for the few, primitive survivors on a post-holocaust earth devoid of technology.

"This is the kind of movie that people will laugh at while they are watching it, but they will be thinking about the meaning long after they leave the theatre," says Yee.

But the holiday season will not be entirely without action. Two action releases will also be taking their chances at the box office: China Star's Running Out Of Time 2, the sequel to the popular police drama starring Andy Lau and Lau Ching-wan, and Golden Harvest's 2002, a martial arts thriller where The Matrix meets Ghostbusters: