By Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, cross-posted from Televisual
Here in the US, it’s pretty safe to say, most if not all of the Hong Kong films we see are big budget, triad-themed or auteur-centered. We see Johnnie To, Wong Kar-Wai, films from stars like Tony Leung, Andy Lau, and Jackie Chan. While film production in Hong Kong has slowed way down from the highs in the 80s and 90s, there are still a number of independent and local filmmakers making films about and within the Special Region.
Among these filmmakers, relative newcomer Jennifer Thym is in a category unto herself, making films in English, directing web series, filming locally while distributing and raising funds globally.
Thym’s first major project, Lumina, a Webby Award-winning and Streamy-nominated web series, debuted in the fall 2009 on KoldCast TV. Lumina is a fantasy series of sorts, exploring the story of a woman named Lumina who finds a man in her mirror. The series goes to show Lumina increasingly entangled in an epic battle of forces beyond her world and imagination, roaming throughout Hong Kong’s cluttered streets and austere central district. Hong Kong’s glass buildings provided an appropriate backdrop for a series about the mystique of mirrors.
“Hong Kong is a good place to shoot. The city itself is just a gorgeous backdrop. You don’t have to build a set,” Thym told me in a phone interview. “You can use that to your advantage.”
Thym grew up in Virginia, going on to work in investment banking and law in Vienna and London before coming to Hong Kong and pursuing film. After working as a line producer for a short film made in Hong Kong, Thym put up her own money and shot Lumina, which would go on to become her calling card and her “film school,” using the popular RED camera.
“If you really believe in something, it sometimes easier to make your own thing,” she said.
Just two years into her film career, Thym is keeping busy directing her own projects and producing those of others. One project in development is a feature film, Bloodtraffick, a vampires versus angels action film (think Taken-style) Thym hopes will have global appeal. With action and perhaps a second shooting location in New Orleans, she thinks she can make a popular film on a budget.
“We’ve been able to milk every bit of production value out of every dollar we have,” she said.
Currently in post-production — Thym was wrapping up shooting a few weeks ago when I was in Hong Kong — is a comedy series, Mister French Taste, about a French etiquette coach coming to Hong Kong to educate a spoiled, hip hop-oriented Cantonese kid. The ten-episode series, at three minutes each, is intended for web and mobile distribution.
If Thym’s work seems particularly global, it may reflect larger truths about the Hong Kong film market. “Hong Kong is a pretty small market, which limits what you can do,” Thym said. Filming in English, soliciting funding from Europe and Asia, choosing topics and genres with wider appeal and playing with newer modes of distribution are ways of diversifying her market and creative freedom. As I researched and spoke with independent filmmakers in Hong Kong, I found this is often the case. Filmmakers make work with the world — China, southeast Asia or the west — in mind.
Does Thym plan to stay in Hong Kong? For now, she says, but, with the economy, she does have to be flexible.
“Home is a matter of mind, more than of actual place, for me.”
Below, the first episode of Lumina: