Now that local films areincreasing their share of the Hong Kong box office, there are several signs ofrenewed vigour in the domestic production industry. Budgets are getting bigger,investors are becoming more adventurous and the range of films on offer isbecoming increasingly diverse.

But the most encouragingdevelopment is the influx of new directing talent which is being nurtured byindustry veterans. Major stars Andy Lau and Eric Tsang, who also run their ownproduction companies, recently placed a US$5m budget in the hands of newcomerWong Ching Po to shoot gangster thriller Jiang Hu. Lau and Tsang alsostarred in the film along with Jacky Cheung, Edison Chen and Shawn Yue.

Wong had only previouslymade one film - indie thriller Fu Bo - but the gamble appears to havepaid off as Jiang Hu topped the box office with a gross of US$1.15m in itsopening week (see Global Box Office). Although the film's artisticflourishes divided critics in Hong Kong, it looks set for an overseas festivalcareer and Fortissimo Films has picked up worldwide rights.

Other newcomers - includingEdmond Pang Ho-cheung, Kenneth Bi, Lo Chi-leung and female directors BarbaraWong Chun-chun and Yan Yan Mak - are also putting together interesting projectswith backing from Hong Kong studios. After his success with black comedy MenSuddenly In Black, Pang is attached to direct a second comedy for Mei AhEntertainment, Crime Expert (working title), while Golden Network Asiais raising finance for his China-set drama Waiting For Nike.

Bi, who first came to noticewith DV feature A Small Miracle, is putting the finishing touches tocomedy drama Hainan Chicken Rice which is financed by Jackie Chan's newproduction outfit, JCE Movies, and the Singapore Film Commission.

Lo, who now has fourfeatures under his belt including Filmko thrillers Inner Senses and Koma,is not strictly speaking a newcomer, but his ability to embellish genre movieswith psychological drama makes him a talent to watch. His next project is acomedy/fantasy, Insect Girl, for Emperor Motion Picture Group about adyslexic teenager who finds she can hear conversations between bugs and plants.

Actor-turned-directorBarbara Wong displayed a knack for ensemble comedy last year with Filmko's TruthOr Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat. She is currently shooting Filmko's6 Strong Guys, which takes a humorous look at classic male insecurities.Filmko is also backing Butterfly, a lesbian drama directed byindependent filmmaker Yan Yan Mak whose debut feature, Gege, played atseveral festivals including Fribourg and Venice.

Meanwhile, establishedtalents are also busy. Infernal Affairs directors Andrew Lau and AlanMak are gearing up to shoot car racing action drama Initial D for MediaAsia while Benny Chan is scheduled to direct Universe action title Divergenceafter finishing work on New Police Story starring Jackie Chan. JohnnieTo has three upcoming movies - detective drama Breaking News and anuntitled action romance for Media Asia and action title Throw Down forChina Star.

All of which should make fora competitive summer and Christmas at the Hong Kong box office. Althoughinternational sporting events and Hollywood's global juggernauts will befighting for the audience's attention, it looks likely that local product willcontinue to prosper in 2004.

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