Don't expect Hollywood-style flash from Hong Kong film producer John Chong. The 46-year-old leaves the glamour to his stars. Instead, Chong focuses on being the most successful producer in Hong Kong moviedom since the Golden Age of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan in the 1970s and '80s. He is executive director of Media Asia Group, the studio that last year released Infernal Affairs III, the final installment in one of the hottest series in Chinese-language film history.
The movies, which focus on two undercover agents -- one from the Hong Kong police and the other from one of the city's notorious triads, or criminal gangs -- have broken Hong Kong box-office records. Last year a group of U.S. investors, including actor Brad Pitt, bought the rights to remake the first Infernal Affairs in Hollywood.
Chong has spent his entire career in the local entertainment scene. He started working for Television Broadcasts Ltd. (TVB), Hong Kong's premier television channel, and also wrote lyrics for Cantopop songs. In 1994 he was working at satellite network Star TV Ltd. when he and six partners decided the time was ripe for an entrepreneurial approach to filmmaking. Dubbing themselves the Seven Samurai, they aimed to reverse a sharp decline in the Hong Kong film business as moviegoers rejected the poor quality of locally produced films.
They began taking lessons from Hollywood, insisting, for instance, that all their stars sign the detailed contracts necessary to distribute Media Asia's films overseas. And Chong tightened controls on costs. Media Asia earned $5.1 million last year on sales of $39 million -- miniscule numbers by Hollywood standards, but in Hong Kong a solid success. Now Chong's goal is to expand in the mainland China market, and he plans to take the company public later this year. Expect to see more hits from this star entrepreneur.