Essam Bukhary, CEO of Saudi firm Manga Productions, speaks at the Asia MENA Culture Technology Economic Collaboration Forum in Hong Kong on Dec 19, 2022. (ZHOU LI / CHINA DAILY)

In their resolute quest to distribute more original Middle Eastern content to global audiences, Saudi Arabian anime film producers were encouraged to consider having a tripartite production with the Chinese mainland that would involve Hong Kong as a gateway as a way to crack the code, a forum heard on Monday.

At the first of a two-part forum titled “Asia MENA Culture Technology Economic Collaboration Forum”, held at the Cyberport Arcade in Hong Kong, Raymond Yip, chief liaison officer of the Nansha New Area and vice-chairman of the Belt and Road Global Development Alliance, said that China is now “the biggest box office receipt market in the world”.

China is now “the biggest box office receipt market in the world”

READ MORE: Saudi anime producers look to China for next growth potential

Yip said that in 2021, more than 80 percent of Chinese mainland co-produced films were with Hong Kong. And of the Chinese-language films that reached the top 20 at the box office on the Chinese mainland, six of them were co-produced with Hong Kong — with four reaching the top 10. 

He also noted that The Battle at Lake Changjin was the first non-Hollywood film to net $900 million globally last year, and was also the first non-Hollywood film to become a blockbuster.

“The advantages of a co-produced film are that it’s free of (the) quota. China has an annual quota for films brought into the mainland. But … co-produced films are exempted from this quota,” Yip told the audience.

Yip said that in the mainland market, a film co-produced with Hong Kong “is almost a sure win for success”.

“I would encourage our friends from Saudi Arabia to look at the possibility of co-production with Hong Kong and the mainland. A tripartite co-production,” said Yip.

“So, this is your ingredient for success — China. And you need to pay attention to China and the way to start is to start with Hong Kong,” said Yip. 

READ MORE: 'Dream to go beyond': Saudi animation lands in HK

Peter Yan, CEO of Cyberport, who leads its technology flagship in talent cultivation and industry development, noted that the Saudi delegation, graced by Essam Bukhary, CEO of Saudi anime firm Manga Productions, was the first delegation from the Arab nation to visit China after President Xi Jinping’s visit to Riyadh earlier this month, and called it an “honor”.

Xi visited Riyadh from Dec 7 to 10 to attend three summits where he met with several Arab leaders, including the Saudi government. The Saudi delegation was in town for the premiere screening of the Saudi-Japanese anime film The Journey, which was dubbed into Putonghua.

“Many of you probably know Cyberport (in relation) to financial technology and also smart living. But we also have a very vibrant and strong digital entertainment community and this is probably going to be developed even further with many new initiatives coming,” said Yan, adding there is “a very clear national strategy” under the 14th national Five-Year Plan (2021-25) to make the city a center for “East meets West”.

Victor Tsang, head of CreateHK, an office established by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government in June 2009 to spearhead the city’s creative industries, detailed the government’s support for the relevant industries.

“The current (administration) is committed to fostering the cultural development of Hong Kong to expedite its progression into an ‘East meets West’ center for international cultural exchange,” said Tsang. 

“With the formation of a new culture, sports and tourism bureau by the new (administration), Hong Kong is in a better position to offer synergistic effects with crossover projects with culture, arts, sports and tourism,” he added.

Tsang also said that on Nov 4, the Film Development Council, which advises the secretary for culture, sports and tourism on the policy, strategy and institutional arrangements for the promotion and development of the film industry, as well as the use of public funds to support the industry, announced that the Film Development Fund will implement two new measures.

They are the Hong Kong-Asian Film Collaboration Funding Scheme and the content development scheme for streaming platforms. 

“The collaboration funding scheme will support collaboration between local and Asian film production teams for co-production of films, while the content-development scheme will focus on the development of new content on streaming platforms by cross-sectoral production teams,” said Tsang.

“Among the many projects supported by Hong Kong, I would like to cite two more relevant projects with today’s theme. The first one is called the animation support program. It is organized by the Hong Kong Digital Entertainment Association, our long-term partner in the last 10 years,” said Tsang, adding that this year, the project will support a total of 30 local animation companies.

Eric Chan Sze-yuen (first left), chief public mission officer for Cyberport, joins a panel discussion with representatives of the cultural and creative industries and digital entertainment enterprises in Hong Kong on Dec 19, 2022. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The funding scheme could aid in spurring opportunities for Arab and other Asian content producers who have been facing challenges in breaking into a broader market.

During the second part of the forum, Abdulaziz Alnaghmoosh, director of marketing, distribution and business development at Manga Productions, said that among the issues his firm has tried to tackle “in the last five years” has been “how to get our content everywhere”. 

“Entering the Chinese market, that’s something we (have) thought about for the last three years,” Alnaghmoosh told the panel.

READ MORE: Saudi anime producers see potential in China

He said it was “not just getting the content of Manga Productions everywhere”, but also how to “get content from everywhere else into the Middle East”.

“I think we can collaborate together on how to get the content (through) Hong Kong … to the Middle East and, vice versa, get the content of the Middle East this way. And I think that is the key point that I noticed here. Because every time I go meet someone, they have such great content, but where is it?” said Alnaghmoosh.

Fred Wang, chairman of Salon Films and Asia Content Business Summit, told China Daily that in the new digital era, there could be many digital markets to develop. 

“Manga from Saudi Arabia, they are moving forward into the new era with the young generation. And Hong Kong should be supporting Saudi and developing together,” said Wang.

“The future is going to be virtual digital. If we start working together, it will become a model, an example that everybody along the Silk Road (can follow),” he added.

When asked what he thought of Yip’s invitation to consider a tripartite production with the Chinese mainland and the Hong Kong SAR as the key to unlocking their distribution success, Bukhary told China Daily that there are many opportunities to work in co-production for business, for partnership with Chinese companies, universities and other organizations.

“Indeed, we are very proud of our partnership with Salon Films, but going back to 2020, we had our TV series folk tales. It’s the first ever Saudi and Arab content to be on Chinese platforms such as Tencent,” said Bukhary.

“We had many talks, discussions with video games from China and other areas. So, this is only the beginning. I believe the future is very bright,” he added.