Note: Asia In Cinema will hold its annual Hong Kong Film Awards Live Blog on Sunday, April 15 starting at 8 pm local time.

See here for the full list of nominees.

 Hong Kong cinema is in trouble. Yes, the Hong Kong film industry has been saying that for the past 20 years, but this year’s list of Hong Kong Film Award nominees reveal that the trouble is real.

Last year, the Hong Kong film industry was in an upbeat mood; new directors found success both critically and commercially, it saw more new directors eligible for the Best New Director award than ever, and the HKFA saw more films eligible for the awards than in recent years. After years of worries about the Chinese film industry swallowing up Hong Kong cinema, it seemed like maybe things were going to be OK after all, thanks to the young ‘uns. 

But the rest of 2017 didn’t pan out as well as the industry wanted. Hong Kong cinema was virtually left out of last year’s Golden Horse Awards, and only three local releases in the second half of 2017 landed on the list of top-grossing local films of the year. Box office for local films went down significantly, and it wasn’t only because audiences chose to turn out for Hollywood films – there simply weren’t enough local films worth supporting.

Even with more films than ever opting to do early public screenings to be eligible for this year’s awards (Somewhere Beyond the Mist [藍天白雲], Concerto of the Bully [大樂師·為愛配樂] In Your Dreams [以青春的名義], Tomorrow is Another Day [黃金花], I’m looking at all of you), at least a few people I’ve talked to (including at least one HKFA voter) has echoed this sentiment. An essay in this year’s Hong Kong Film Festival catalog echoed this sentiment. It’s been a pretty bad year for Hong Kong cinema, and filling in that nomination list was not easy. How else would you explain Chasing The Dragon (追龍) being nominated for Best Film?

Nevertheless, the show must go on, so voters turned to the familiar. Ann Hui’s Our Time Will Come (明月幾時有) was the easy choice for voters, earning 11 nominations to lead the way. Sylvia Chang’s Love Education (相愛相親), a Mainland China and Taiwan-funded production, also saved voters by being somehow eligible. And then there’s the obligatory Andy Lau film (Shock Wave [拆彈專家], which is much more impressive on a technical level than on a story level), the obligatory action film (Paradox [殺破狼·貪狼]), and of course, the triad epic retread that is Chasing The Dragon, featuring Andy Lau literally playing the same role that he did over 20 years prior. 

Meanwhile, the voters seemed wise enough to recognize six great things about Kearen Pang’s 29+1 – specifically, its director, its script, its two stars, and its music – but deemed that it’s worse than the five films nominated for Best Film. Logic sometimes eludes the HKFA voter base as a whole, which probably also explains how Stephanie Au, who literally appears in only a few shots of Love Off The Cuff (春嬌救志明), scored a Best New Actor nomination.

But awards have rarely been just about voting for the best films. Hong Kong’s film industry is really a small circle. People who vote for these awards work in the industry, and these voters have allegiances to uphold.  Sometimes that can affect the films that get nominated, and sometimes there are clear front-runners that would just make no sense to leave out. Love Education probably falls in the latter.

And so, like it or not, the HKFA voters have decided on having this particular list of films as a snapshot of Hong Kong cinema circa 2017. Instead of complaining about the quality, maybe we should be thankful that there are still enough films coming out of Hong Kong to even justify a film award. Better luck to us all next year.

Remembering that I’m supposed to get people to follow this year’s HKFA (or at least this website’s live blog), I should also say that the HKFA will be as star-studded as ever. Chor Yuen is winning the Lifetime Achievement Award. And Twins’ Charlene Choi is hosting for the first time ever (she’s even done a song with co-host Louis Cheung). Even if the films are lackluster, the HKFA is always fun to watch, and I certainly hope this year will not be the exception.