The rise and fall of Hong Kong showbiz ... and how fans still hold on to stars of yesteryear
The meteoric rise of Hong Kong’s entertainment industry took place in the 1970s to ’80s, propelled by the city’s rapid economic growth.
At its zenith, Hong Kong stars were household names among the Chinese community worldwide, a source of pride for the city. In the past decade, however, with fans’ attention turning to K-pop and local artistes taking their acts to the more lucrative mainland market, some of this lustre has been lost.
In the 1980s and ’90s, Hong Kong’s film industry was the third-largest in the world after Bollywood and Hollywood. By then, names such as Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and filmmaker Wong Kar-wai had gained international stardom.
But the blossoming of showbiz in Hong Kong came a decade before such heights. Canto-pop took rise in the mid-1970s when “God of Songs” Sam Hui Koon-kit began singing love songs in Cantonese. Marrying the tones of Western music with modern Chinese lyrics sung in Cantonese, the emerging style immediately captured the hearts of Hongkongers.
The city’s entertainment industry came together, as television, film and music formed a collective empire.
In the 1980s, all-rounded film, television, and music performers such as Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, Maggie Cheung Man-yuk, and Anita Mui Yim-fong spread Hong Kong’s culture to the world. In an industry where stars can rise and fall with the sun, Hong Kong’s first superstars have remained well-loved and revered, some even in death.
Over the last two decades, however, annual music record sales have dropped from HK$1.6 billion to HK$200 million.
Sadly, this is not an isolated trend. The film industry has also seen decline in the past decade. The city produced more than 400 films a year in the early ’90s, but this figure dropped to as low as 60 in 2017. In 1996, five of the top 10 grossing films in Hong Kong were local productions. Twenty years on, only one quasi-home-made flick made the top 10.
Some blamed the slump on a talent drain to mainland China, with its soaring new-found wealth. Canto-pop started to be overshadowed by Mando-pop as the mainland opened up and groomed its own stars.
With the dimming of Hong Kong’s showbiz star came more joint productions with mainland counterparts. More worryingly for the local sector though, the flavour for fans seems to have shifted to South Korea in recent years.