Chern Ann Ng, Singapore entrepreneur
230 Views • Upvoted by Edwin Khoo, Singaporean
Singapore did have quite a movie industry into the 50s - many Malay and Chinese films were shot in Singapore, but unfortunately a lot of them are now lost, which may be why there isn't much of a cultural impression.
Hong Kong cinema enjoyed these advantages in the 20th century:
- Hong Kong cinema was largely free of government interference as a British colony. Singapore after independence in 1965 was extremely concerned with propaganda and nation building, with many sectors of the media being regulated by the Ministry of Culture. This regulation extended to depictions of guns and violence, any kind of race or class conflict, nudity, language, or other hot topic issues of the day.
- The population of Hong Kong was larger than Singapore for the greater part of the 20th century, and was (in general) homogeneously Cantonese speaking with a Chinese identity, creating an economically viable market for Cantonese cinema. Singapore inhabitants before independence were mostly immigrants or children of immigrants, with a great diversity of cultures and languages. After independence the government went on a serious drive to suppress the teaching of Chinese dialects (including Cantonese) in favor of the more economically useful English and Mandarin - while preserving the languages of Malay, Tamil for the sake of the minority Malay and Indian communities. Regulations meant that only Mandarin, English, Malay and Tamil movies or TV could be easily produced, which presumably would have alienated movie goers - it wouldn't have mattered so much if there wasn't serious competition from Hong Kong film at the same time.
- After the communist take over of China, most Mandarin film production moved into nearby Hong Kong (from Shanghai), rather than to Singapore. This would give the Hong Kong film industry a leg up over Singapore in terms of imported expertise and professionals - a small advantage that over time became exponentially magnified with new generations being trained up and honing their craft.
- Hong Kong movies (Cantonese or Mandarin) were also typically shot silent with dubbing done in post-production, which allowed films to be easily dubbed into Mandarin for major export markets of mainland China and Taiwan.
- Shaw Brothers had an existing film distribution center in Singapore before independence, importing mostly movies from its production house in Hong Kong, as well as films from other producers. After the independence of Singapore, these Cantonese films were imported with Mandarin soundtracks and 繁體 fántǐ (unsimplified Chinese characters) subtitles that adult non-Mandarin speaking Chinese could read. Inevitably, because they enjoyed a higher production budget by being able to service the Hong Kong, China and Taiwanese markets, these dubbed Hong Kong films could out compete Singapore films even though both were in Mandarin. The reverse was not true - there was little financial incentive to import Mandarin Singapore film into Hong Kong. Film production budgets naturally migrated out of Singapore to more lucrative markets.
- In the 70s, Bruce Lee broke through into Hollywood, raising world awareness to the relevance of Hong Kong cinema, and paving the way for other actors to cross over including Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat, Jet Li, Donny Yen etc as well as directors, stunt men and fight choreographers. No similar event occurred for Singapore - into the 80s this greatly increased the market for Hong Kong films globally and further broadened the gap between Hong Kong and Singapore cinema.