Hong Kong Star Louis Koo On Backing New Talent Through One Cool Group, Hollywood Moves & Pushing VFX Boundaries In ‘Warriors Of Future’

EXCLUSIVE: Released in August, Louis Koo’s sci-fi action thriller Warriors Of Future has become not just the highest-grossing local film in Hong Kong ever, but the highest-grossing Asian film ever released in the territory, with a gross of HK$81.7M (US$10.5M). The film also raked in $100m in China over the summer and is currently number four in Netflix’s global ranking of non-English language films after launching worldwide on December 2.

It’s an encouraging result for Hong Kong’s film industry, which suffered through some of the most frequent and lengthy cinema shutdowns during the pandemic – the last one only ending this April. It’s also an extraordinary achievement for a Hong Kong sci-fi movie, as the territory has never before attempted to produce a film of this genre and at this scale. 

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Directed by visual effects specialist Ng Yuen-fai (Bodyguards And Assassins), the $56m film was six years in the making through Koo’s One Cool Group, a full service production, distribution and VFX outfit, which he launched in Hong Kong and Bangkok in 2013. Koo also heads the cast of the film along with Sean Lau Ching-wan and Carina Lau. One of Hong Kong’s biggest stars with more than 100 credits to his name, Koo also acts in other company’s movies, with recent credits including G Storm, Anita and upcoming action drama Twilight Of The Warriors: Walled In.

Speaking to Deadline just after the launch of Warriors Of Future on Netflix, Koo explains that One Cool started out by providing CGI and DI [digital intermediate] services, later branching out into film production, equipment services, artist management and regional distribution. Ng’s award-winning VFX house Fatface Production is part of the group. 

“We’ve made a lot of films, but the idea was to create a one-stop shop, covering the entire chain of production and distribution, so we’d have a steady source of income in between the film productions,” Koo explains. 

For several years, Koo didn’t go public about being the founder of the group, although it was an open secret in the Hong Kong film industry, because he didn’t want his star status to deflect from its work. In addition to big-budget Hong Kong-China co-productions, which also include upcoming action drama Back To The Past and crime thriller Beyond The Sin, the company also produces a slew of smaller-budget films from first-time Hong Kong directors and other emerging talents. 

“There’s a real need to find new writing and directing talent in Hong Kong, because our industry has had a very successful past, but hasn’t been catering to the tastes of the younger local audience,” Koo explains. “They’re not as interested in the action and crime thrillers that we’re known for internationally, so we wanted to start developing films that more closely reflect their lifestyle and experiences.” 

Recent examples of these films include Luk Yee Sum’s The Secret Diary Of A Mom To Be, about a young career woman who is less than delighted when she falls pregnant; Emily Chan’s Macau-set drama Madalena, about the relationship between a taxi driver and a bar hostess; and Jimmy Wan’s Zero To Hero, the true story of Hong Kong Paralympic Games athlete So Wa Wai, which was Hong Kong’s submission to the Oscars Best International feature category last year. Made on modest budgets, these films have struck a chord at the local box office and received regional festival play. 

Koo says that next steps for the company are to expand into Hollywood and pan-Asian production. One Cool has already invested in two Sony animated movies – Vivo and The Mitchells vs The Machines, the latter picking up an Oscar nomination for best animated feature last year. Koo took an executive producer credit on the two films, and says he’s looking for further investment opportunities, but his overarching aim is to work on projects that contribute towards enhancing the Hong Kong film industry’s skills base and expertise in new technologies. 

Warriors Of Future, about humanity’s fight against a lethal plant that crashes to earth in a meteor, involved more than 1,900 CGI shots, including fighting robots, human-sized insect-like creatures and a high-octane car chase created by compositing two separate Hong Kong highways together. It pushed the Hong Kong film industry to its limits, but the quality of the film’s VFX work has been praised by critics. “It was all challenging, but the robots were the most difficult because they had to fight and interact with each other, so took a long time to get right,” Koo says.

He adds that while One Cool is already active in CGI  and 3D animation – the company is currently working on an animated prequel to Warriors Of Future – he’s also interested in virtual production and artificial intelligence (AI) techniques. “While we don’t have any virtual production stages [a.k.a. volumes] in the region yet, the technology could open up exciting new possibilities for sci-fi movies,” says Koo, a self-confessed sci-fi fan and collector of robot memorabilia. “We want to explore, not just the sci-fi genre, but also the technology. If it doesn’t make sense budget-wise to have volumes here, we would fly to the US or Australia to shoot.” 

Closer to home, and acknowledging the limitations of the relatively small Hong Kong market, Koo aims to start producing local-language films and series across Asia – with an initial focus on Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan and South Korea. One Cool already has offices in mainland China, Thailand and Korea and is working with local producers in several territories. 

It’s a wise move as the Asia Pacific region is producing more content in more languages than ever before, with a shift towards episodic content and streaming services, similar to everywhere else in the world. One Cool has an international sales arm for its Chinese-language content, but rather than wait to see if and when cinemas around the world would start to recover, opted to sell the worldwide rights of Warriors Of Future to Netflix in the early days of the pandemic. 

Netflix recently announced the film as heading a new slate of Chinese-language content, which also includes several drama series produced in Taiwan. Ironically, however, Warriors Of Future is one of several Hong Kong films from a range of companies that have gone gangbusters at the local box office over the summer, also including Table For Six, Mama’s Affair, Chilli Laugh Story and most recently courtroom drama The Sparring Partner. Does this mean that Hong Kong’s film industry is already in recovery? 

Koo observes that every country’s film industry goes through peaks and troughs, even outside of black swan events like the pandemic: “It’s just that Hong Kong’s film industry reached its lowest point and is now starting to bounce back again. That’s why this is the perfect time to try new things and experiment. We can’t just keep repeating the same old formulas.” 

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