Tony Wong Yuk-long never stops pursuing his dreams. From crafting his own comic strips at the age of 13 to becoming the “godfather” of Hong Kong comics, Wong has redefined the art and business of comics in the city. He is now exporting the cultural treasure in a form few people could have dreamt of.
“It’s been my biggest dream to build a theme park,” says the 65-year-old veteran artist. “And I’m proud to say that I can finally realise this dream.”
Wong is referring to his latest venture – an HK$800 million comics theme park to be built in Hangzhou , Zhejiang province.
“It is a ’boutique version’ of a crossover between Universal Studios and Disneyland,” Wong says. “It is a theme park with Hong Kong characteristics, a brand of Hong Kong’s creativity exported to mainland China.”
The announcement about the comics theme park was made ahead of the Legislative Council debate on the copyright bill – an issue about which Wong is concerned. This Wednesday, councillors are set to resume the second reading of the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014, which has been dubbed by its critics as the “internet’s Article 23”, making reference to the article in the Basic Law on national security, as it has been seen as a government measure to clamp down on the freedom of expression.
Wong founded Jade Dynasty Group in 1993 and is also chairman of the Hong Kong Comics and Animation Federation, which unites the industry and fights rampant piracy. According to the federation, revenue for the industry plunged from HK$700 million in 2007 to just HK$100 million last year.
To Wong, who has been in the comics industry for just over 50 years, building a theme park is one way to fight piracy as he plans to turn classic Hong Kong comic titles into physical infrastructure that is hard to copy.
But when he is asked which Hong Kong titles will be featured in his theme park, he is tight-lipped. “Construction will begin in the middle of next year and the theme park is expected to be ready in 2018. If I tell you now, other people can easily copy me. I can’t reveal too many details,” says Wong, who knows too well that fighting piracy on the mainland is a much bigger battle than in Hong Kong.
Nevertheless, Wong isn’t shy about revealing some details about the theme park. He says it will be located at Qiandao Lake, a tourist destination to the west of Hangzhou. It will occupy 11,000 square metres, more than half the size of Victoria Park. He is expecting the theme park to draw 1.5 million to two million visitors per year, charging 200 to 300 yuan per ticket. He projects revenue of 300 million to 400 million yuan in the first year.
The theme park will be divided into three sections. In the comics section, it will feature Hong Kong titles plus some from other places including the mainland, Taiwan and Japan.
Another section will be dedicated to film classics. “You can expect movie sets of some classics and behind-the-scenes stories can be found there,” Wong says. “I can’t tell you what titles will be featured but we are working on the copyright issues.” The third section involves amusement park rides.
Wong says he is thankful for the support of the government of Hangzhou, which has become the mainland’s base camp for comics and the animation industry. “I’m a little disappointed that this cannot be built in Hong Kong,” he adds.
Hong Kong is where Wong found his fame and fortune. Born Wong Jan-lung in 1950 in Jiangmen in Guangdong, Wong moved to Hong Kong when he was six. He has been submitting his drawings and illustrations to the press since his early teenage years. They were published in various publications such as The Chinese Student Weekly Reunion and Youth Park. At 17, he established his own company so he could be in charge of everything from creation to drawing and publishing.
“Wong is a genius and has made tremendous contributions to Hong Kong’s comics development,” says Connie Lam Suk-yee, who heads the Arts Centre, which operates Comix Homebase in Wan Chai to promote the art.
Among the best known titles is Tiger and Dragon Heroes, or Oriental Heroes in some translations. Originally published under the title Little Rascals in 1969, Lam says the kung fu comic strip that centred around the lives of young men in public housing estates was not only a watershed in local comics history but also reflected the life of the city in those days.
It is a crossover between Universal Studios and Disneyland TONY WONG YUK-LONG
Lam says that artists who came to Hong Kong from the mainland brought their Chinese aesthetics with them in the 1950s. This was followed by the growing influence of Japanese manga, which had a great impact on Hong Kong artists in the following decades.
But Wong’s works, Lam says, carried their own aesthetic value. “You can see the Chinese and Japanese influence there, but it is something in-between,” she says. Tiger Wong, the thick-browed and muscular protagonist in Little Rascals, was the best example, she says. Other titles, such as Buddha’s Palm in the 1980s, also earned huge success.
“The story also reflected the livelihood and modernisation of Hong Kong in the 1970s,” Lam says. “Wong’s works defined Hong Kong comics.”
Lam says Wong was the first to turn Hong Kong’s comics industry into a business and venture into other media including films and games. He has trained a number of Hong Kong comic talents, including the iconic Ma Wing-shing, author of Wind and Cloud. Wong once told the media that 85 per cent of the comic talent in Hong Kong was under his wings.
Wong reportedly made HK$2 billion through his comics publishing empire that owned 21 titles selling 1.8 million copies each month. But he lost his company, Jademan, after the market crash in the late 1980s. In 1991, he was charged with forgery and sentenced to jail for four years. He was released after two years.
He made a comeback in 1993, founding Jade Dynasty Group and launching martial arts fantasy Weapons of the Gods in 1999.
The title earned wild success as Wong became the first to cross over from comics to other media such as video games. He reportedly earned HK$1 billion from that venture.
Wong hopes his Hangzhou theme park will be successful so that he can achieve his next dream.
“Then I can prove to Hong Kong that my idea has both commercial and cultural values, and I will have greater bargaining power with the Hong Kong government to earn some support to bring this theme park to my home,” he says.
Source: South China Morning Post