Interview - Fortune Star


While our interviews focus mainly on actors and directors, it's important also to look at other aspects of film production, including the distribution and the technical problems. Fortune Star became in a few years one of the most important DVD editors in Hong Kong, not only thanks to the volume of its catalog but rather to the quality of its restoration work. François talked about those aspects with Peter Poon, general manager of Fortune Star.


Media Asia was the distributor of the Star catalog before. Now it's Fortune Star itself, why this change?

Media Asia was always only a distributor of the Star library. The owner of the library was Star. The distribution arrangement ended at the end of year 2000. Commencing year 2001, Star decided to take back its own distribution. Star is a large network in Asia. Being a television network, the content is very important. So it was time for Star to take control of the library, for their own television use to begin, and also to have a better coordination.

VCD is still the number one media in China and Hong Kong. But do you think that DVD will soon take the lead?

If you look at the recent years, the price of the typical DVD player went down to be almost comparable with a VCD player. Almost 100% of customers have now a DVD player, especially in the Hong Kong market. The retail sales of DVDs should become number one soon on this market. China is gradually changing, DVD is still a high quality product, it will take a few more years to replace VCD.

Fortune Star DVDs are probably the best existing versions for the movies you release, not only in HK, but worldwide. However, nor the HK market neither the Chinese market are requesting such a high quality, people are still used to VCD.

We look at this matter corporately. Star doesn't look only at Hong Kong or China when it comes to the distribution of its library. We are looking for a worldwide distribution, because we own the library on a worldwide basis. We know that western audiences, in terms of DVD format, expect a better quality for image and sound.

To meet that demand, we have to improve the quality of the film. That's why we invested into such a restoration for the movies. Also, the restoration we have made on our movies is not just a simple restoration. We are HDTV ready. We are investing for the future. We see in the next 5 to 7 years the convergence of the television broadcast industry in the HD standards. We don't know yet what the next format of DVD will be, Blue Ray or HD-DVD. But we will be ready to come up with that standard. We are just releasing the standard def now, because DVD cannot accept high-def images.

What about the chinese HD standard, EVD, are you considering it?

We have looked into that, but obviously, we cannot look at one single market only. EVD is accepted in China market only, but it could go away when TV will go HD, as it won't be compatible. EVD is more a capacity standard than a quality standard.

DVDs in Hong Kong or China are usually twice or three times less expensive than in Europe or USA, probably because customers are used to the VCD price. Is it difficult to deal with those price differences?

In Hong Kong, we only release boxsets. We try to treat our products as the Rolls Royce of DVDs in Hong Kong. There are high-end products, and low end products. We have not looked at the low end market, as the profit margins are very low, it's only going on a pricing war. We sell our DVDs at a higher price than the market, as boxsets. Our sales don't have the volume of the cheap DVDs, but there are consumers who are requesting higher quality products. So our products are still distributing at very good quantities.

In those boxsets, you usually include the typical DTS and DD 5.1 tracks, but also the original mono tracks. That's very uncommon in Hong Kong. How come?

It's again from the market demand. Every time we release a DVD, Fortune Star or me personnally get floods of emails of fans worldwide giving positive or negative comments. This was one of the requests we have noticed from a LOT of die-hard fans: to have the original mono soundtrack in the DVD. They want the original flavor. We cannot satisfy everyone, as the DVD capacity is limited. But we were able to answer to this request with DVD 9 (double layer discs), without degrading the image quality.

You are remastering the Golden Harvest catalog, while Celestial is remastering the Shaw Brothers one. But you release less movies than them. Why?

When you restore titles up the HD level, it takes some time. We are just restoring two to three titles a month. So therefore we cannot release as large volumes as the other competitors that may not be restoring to the HD level. We are continuously doing this, we are not going to stop with what is released now.

Most of those old movies were difficult if not impossible to watch before. Now it's restored and released again. Do you think it's important for your own culture?

Talking about my library, about the Golden Princess, Golden Harvest, D&B movies, they are probably the best core of Hong Kong productions during the 80's. Definately looking from a business perspective, we are investing for the future of television. But at the same time, we are maintaining a very important history of Hong Kong film culture.

It's a bit of a responsability and I'm happy that the worldwide audience are accepting what we have done. And we are further improving our restoration quality to a new level with the lab we are working with. Probably end of next year, or at latest, beginning of 2007, we will be releasing the Bruce Lee titles again, with a quality improved of 40 to 50% compared to what we have already done now with our restoration. I saw the test for one of the Bruce Lee movies, it's amazing, it looks like a new film.

Your Bruce lee boxset is already making any other edition look almost like blur...

It has been 6 years since I work on restoration, and I'm still learning everyday. It also allows me to criticize more. We knew that there was one issue that maybe consumers would not know in the Bruce Lee movies that we have done now. But again, HD is coming now, with bigger TV screens, particularly in the western markets. With the new restoration that we have done, it will look like a new film, with a much better def and better colors, and it takes longer, three months for one film. For my Bruce Lee's, next for my Jet Li's Once upon a Time in China, for Jackie Chan's Police Story, we consider doing it to this level.

Once you will have chosen between HD-DVD and Blueray, how fast can we see this movie in HD?

It will definately be the Bruce Lee movies first. We were green-lighted to do it months ago. Based on three months per film, basically we will be ready next year. And by this time, hopefully we will know which standard will be used for HD movies.

Bruce lee is still a big hit for you?

Oh, an enormous hit. On a world wide basis! Japan, Korea, US, Europe...

You talked also about D&B. Will you release some of their action movies ?

We may do some action female boxsets, obviously Michelle Yeoh and some other actresses. We need first to work on our schedule for next year.

You focus more on old movies for the moment with your boxsets, when other editors release also recent movies. How come?

Fortune Star is going to produce movies quite soon. We will be producing feature films and HD movies, including with Andrew Lau who has already begun the production of two HD movies, and Kirk Wong, who will also work on HD movies. It took me about a year to convince Kirk Wong to come back to work in Hong Kong. Hopefully he should begin to work on two projects by the end of the year.

We talked about DVD, HD, TV, feature films, but are you also interested by the VOD (Video On Demand) service on internet?

VOD on internet is developping rapidly in Japan, we have done some testings in Germany, we have a deal in HK with PCCW which is distributing all our channels, so it will be a potentiel market to study next year. But in terms of format, we will have to consider it market by market.


Korea is one of the biggest new trends in Asia and in the world, what do you think will be the next trend? India? Mainland China?

China has always been producing, and I think it will continue. The international market is already well aware of this cinema. One area I think which could be the next trend is surely India. Bollywood feature films are extremely colorful. One thing Fortune Star Entertainement has started to take up is our Star India Televison programming. My team and myself are looking carefully at India's production. Currently, HK movies have an identity of action. US movies have the identity of special effets. Bollywood movies have a very clear and distinct identity. Give the indian producers some time in terms of packaging for the films, and to make films more international, and they will break through.

Are you considering remastering Mainland China movies?

We are more thinking about producing films there, which will happen before the end of this year. About restoration, we need to find movies with a worldwide distribution potential. Restoration is long and expensive process, we can do it if you are the worldwide copyrights owner. It would be difficult to do it if you just own one or few markets.

What about the HK industry? Do you think things have improved since the crisis in the mid 90's?

The source of talent is still here. We have first a big problem with piracy. But we need Hong Kong governement to see that Hong Kong film industry as a profession. Hollywood has done so well because youngsters can go to school and become professionnal, they can get cinema degrees in universities. This is the same thing in Korea. If you look at famous young actors and directors there, they graduated from local film schools. Hong Kong has so much ressources of talent, but there is no university that teaches how to make movies. So for youngsters, filmmaking is not a profession yet. A 16 years old youngster saying "Dad, I want to be a director" won't be taken seriously. It should become an academic course, leading to a professionnal degree. Then it will become a profession. Hong Kong is lacking this, and unfortunately, the governement is not aware of this problem. If you look at why Korean cinema has been doing so well, it's really because of education. I have to congratulate the korean, look at the result!

Jackie Chan has maybe made the first step by announcing the creation of an actor school or something like that?

Yes, it's very important. I know Jackie Chan is lobbying, but we still need the governement support also.

Jackie has receive a very intensive training to become an actor, just like Samo Hung, Yuen Biao. But those chinese opera schools have disappeared. Does it explain partially the golden age of the 80's and then the crisis of the 90's?

Yes, I totally agree with this comment. Coincidentelly, Jackie's company and us are discussing this issue, we are trying to look for areas where we could find real stuntman, athletic and kung-fu trained people who can help for films in the future.

With all our thanks to Sandy Li and Peter Poon!

  • novembre 2005