By Hans Ebert
While trying to shake off memories of the circus that was the second debate between the two clowns in the running to be next President of the United States, wondering how CNN and Fox News could have such wildly different views as to who was winning- Crooked Hillary or the menacing figure of schoolyard bully King Donaldo- and lazily channel surfing, the remote control ended up on Straight Talk, the public affairs programme on HKTVB hosted by a strangely subdued Michael Chugani.
The usually vociferous Chugani was probably tuning out listening to his guest- the low key and deadly dull Jerry Liu, head of the equally low key and deadly dull government organism ironically named CreateHK.
The first and only time I had ever seen and heard of Jerry Liu was around eight years ago at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong when he launched one of those music conferences that people attend because offices have paid for them to be there and be part of an industry that stopped being relevant over a decade ago.
Thinking back, Jerry Liu was the perfect choice for this event- someone who nattered on while music executives, assorted groupies and hangers on ate, drank and engaged in vapid conversations and the tedious game of trying to prove who was the bigger swinging dickhead. It has always been one of those few times where everyone wins.
Jerry Liu had been recently named head of CreateHK after a “worldwide search”- oh dear gawd, please, Duncan Pescod- and was, apparently a local film maker, but no one had ever heard of or knew his work. Maybe it ended up on the editing floor. Him being named head of CreateHK by Duncan Pescod, the Hong Kong government’s Yes Minister gweilo for all occasions was another of those typically goofy Hong Kong government appointments. Doesn’t anyone ever question these? Or are we just numb to them?
On Straight Talk, Michael Chugani lobbed some soft ball questions his way, which Jerry Liu answered with such laborious vapidity that the only thing to stop me nodding off was hearing about “animations”. It’s not “animations”, Jerry Liu, film maker.
It’s animation. Singular. Referring to creativity today having to be “cheap, quick and dirty”- “dirty”?- showed the gentleman’s complete ignorance of how something going viral works and the creative use of all the delivery platforms available today, something that can be seen in the bland website for CreateHK. He and Big Mike then sparred about the Internet and some other stuff too irrelevant- and dumb- to mention, and Jerry Liu, obviously drowning in the quicksand of the past. CreateHK is still stuck in the Eighties because that’s where its leader’s head is at- Hong Kong in the Eighties and Canto Pop and the exorbitant costs for those days of producing, especially, advertising, and when many involved fought hard for shoots overseas to have a free holiday and get laid without the missus finding out.
Jerry Liu, to the better advertising creative directors, the technique was never the idea. Nor locations and glamorous models. And today, the technology is not the idea. The CONCEPT is the idea. Always has been, always will be. Paying to hide the fact that there is no idea has always been anathema to the creative person.
The heyday for creativity in Hong Kong was the Eighties, but not only in advertising, which Jerry Liu seemed to be looking back on- and stuck there. Entrepreneurialism in every facet of business was and is part of creativity. It is this creativity which gave Hong Kong everything from Alan Zeman taking a rubbish dump and turning it into Lan Kwai Fong, the creativity that gave this city an incredibly vibrant nightlife made up of discos like Canton, Disco Disco, Manhattan etc, the origins of Canto Pop through the music of Sam Hui and creative talent like James Wong, Richard Cheung and advertising man Mike Chu.
The problem is that none, or very few, or any of this evolved with the times. For one reason or another, creativity in Hong Kong- creativity in a holistic manner- was castrated. It was allowed to become tired and lazy and as tedious as listening to Jerry Liu waffling on.
CreateHK has been a white elephant that has been allowed to plod along with, sorry to say, poor leadership. After a run- well, a snail’s pace- of nine years, CreateHK has accomplished nothing of any significance.
CreateHK is a slug- yet another government con supported by public money and another ineffective organisation that has been allowed to survive with no snap, crackle and pop without understanding a past, where those in charge of the media- television, radio, music and the print medium- took and took and took and gave nothing back except everything that went into their hip pockets. They lived for what they could get right then and there, and never ever cared to see the future coming. Or prepare the next generation for this future. It’s why there are still fiftysomething and sixtysomething Canto Pop “idols”, their ludicrously over the top concerts and rampant money laundering.
Canto Pop is why the standard of English in Hong Kong has reached such an atrociously low level. Commercial Radio killing off playing English recordings and promoting bland Cantonese recordings because radio and television and music executives worked in cahoots to protect their golden geese of bland local popsters are to blame. Eventually, hairstylists became more important than the music. It was and still is style over substance.
Again, the oldsters who continue to rule and own the Hong Kong entertainment industry never wanted change. It would have affected their business model of false record sales that winged their way into Europe, counterfeit CD manufacturing plants in Malaysia and Mainland China, and corrupt television executives who rigged all those awards shows. Where was the creativity in any of this other than creative accounting?
Forget the popularity of K-Pop and Korean and Japanese television dramas. This is the waffling of those like Jerry Liu totally lost as to what creativity is all about and making limp wrist excuses for it apparently not being here. This is why Hong Kong has lost its edge as a destination and creative hub, especially to Singapore, and other places like Taiwan and Korea and Beijing and Shanghai and Mumbai.
Again, the technique is not the idea, and Jerry Liu lamenting that CreateHK has “only” an annual budget of HK$200m is laughable. Where’s this money going? Why is there even a need for such an obscene amount of money when, looking around, there’s nothing that has ever branded CreateHK as a leader in creativity? Singapore is the hub for the international news media and production houses like Fremantle, because it has never ever killed off the standard of English. The government has always been too smart for that. The actual creative product, especially almost every television series spewed out of the Lion City and Malaysia and the Philippines is cornball drivel.
Corny or not, these productions are in English- and the English language travels even if it “takes Gutz to be a Guitierez, the Philippines’ answer to Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
What the Singapore government and its Economic Development Board have cleverly done is create the perception that the city is this very international meeting place for the greatest creative minds. And this is done by promoting Singapore as the only English speaking destination in the region able to host world class events. Does anything come out of these events? Of course not. It’s smoke and mirrors and success through association with global brands. It’s a savvy business model.
As for Hong Kong, apart from people like Alan Zeman, and those behind the Goods Of Desire brand, where’s the new Made In Hong Kong talent, and how are they being promoted- young film makers, designers, artists, those creating new technology apps with dreams of being the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg? Or Jack Ma. The Umbrella Movement was a very different kind of creativity.
One wonders if Jerry Liu ever stepped out of his comfort zone and saw all the creativity brought to this movement? If he had, he might have actually understood the next generation of Hong Kong entrepreneurs and how to make the CreateHK a strong brand and not some basically invisible entity.
What is the role of CreateHK in helping to develop this new talent? Does it even have a role? Watching Jerry Liu looking to be suffering from shrinkage and comparing today with yesterday like someone stuck in the past, and unable to shake free of the self-made shackles, CreateHK is an utter waste of time that should be shut down before it dupes the public more than it already has- and before Jerry Liu retires- which is soon.
CreateHK is a con, a joke and an insult to what it is meant to be: Creative. CreateHK has cheated Hong Kong’s creative community. Worse, it has been allowed to get away with it.