A Crackdown on Film Props Angers Hong Kong’s Cinephiles

The film industry is perhaps best known for 1970s-era kung fu movies starring Bruce Lee and acclaimed ’90s-era dramas by the director Wong Kar-wai. But after reaching box-office highs in 1992, revenue plummeted about 80 percent over the next 15 years, to around $28 million in 2007, according to government figures. A rebound in 2015 reached about 30 percent of the 1992 peak.

Mr. Chen, of the film critics society, said that the idea that the counterfeiting charges were motivated by mainland politics seemed far-fetched to him, but he thought the film had plenty of critics in the mainland, especially because of its portrayals of some Chinese officials as corrupt.

He added that he did not consider the sentences on Thursday to be “punishment” for the film’s politically sensitive elements, though he did find them severe. “At worst, you’d think the prop makers should just get a warning, if not a small fine,” he said.

A Crackdown on Film Props Angers Hong Kong’s Cinephiles
A Crackdown on Film Props Angers Hong Kong’s Cinephiles

On Thursday, one of the defendants questioned the timing of the sentences.

“You’ve watched movies for years, and those of you who are enforcing the law have seen the issue but you didn’t say anything,” Mr. Cheung said to reporters outside the courthouse. “Why are you only speaking up now?”

Film industries around the world have tight rules governing the creation and use of fake currency in movies, and this is not the first legal case to arise from trying to use fake money that looks as realistic as possible. Anyone who prints fake money in Hong Kong must apply for permission. They must also make bills with “easily identifiable elements” to show that they are not real, Hong Kong’s acting secretary for financial services and the treasury, Joseph Chan, said in January.

Cheung Kit-yee, the judge in the “Trivisa” counterfeiting case, said that while the bills on the set were marked with the word “props,” it was clear only upon careful inspection, local news outlets reported. She said there was a risk that the bills could be used illegally.

But Mr. Ma, the film journalist, said that the case was just the latest example of local filmmakers cutting corners because they were unable to navigate the local bureaucracy. He said a few had even filmed car chases on local roads after failing to secure official permission to have them closed.

There is more than a hint of irony in the case, Mr. Ma said. One of the best-known moments in Hong Kong cinema is a scene in the 1986 film “A Better Tomorrow,” where the gangster Brother Mark, played by Chow Yun-fat, lights his cigarette with a counterfeit $100 bill.

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