Hong Kong : AmCham chief to Hong Kong: I think you are crap

By Phil on November 04, 2003 at 09:37 AM

The South China Morning Post this morning appears to be full of pundit fodder and not surprising the juiciest nuggets still taste of Harbour Fest.

A claim by AmCham's chairman, James Thompson, that Hong Kong has neither the people nor the technology to produce a quality film on Harbour Fest has drawn the wrath of the television production community.

I disagree. A reasonable chunk of my income comes from working with television and film crews and I would say we have some very talented people in this part of the world.

The chief executive of Siren Films, Ed Bean, who has extensive experience in producing videos for the music industry, including work for Ricky Martin and Mariah Carey, said the comments were absurd.

"It's absurd to say we can't attain a level of quality and professionalism here that is of an American standard," Mr Bean said, adding that he was unaware of any approach by concert organisers to local production houses.

"I think the fact this wasn't offered to a local company is quite amazing."

Siren films had offered to help produce a film about the event before learning that a documentary had already been commissioned. They didn't receive a response.

Robert Chua, founder of CETV and a veteran of Hong Kong's broadcasting industry, was scathing. "It's BS," Mr Chua said. "There are good people here and good production companies.

"[Harbour Fest's organisers] are just nuts; they don't know what they are doing."

Craig Leeson, of Ocean Vista Films, which makes documentaries for the likes of National Geographic, said the comments were harmful to the local industry. "He has publicly besmirched the industry in front of the world," Mr Leeson said. "What does that say to anyone who wants to come do a project in Asia?

Absolutely. Someone please investigate and see whether there is a personal connection between Mr. I want to help Hong Kong Thompson and this US company, In Motion Films. Not that I am suggesting the East Arts deal is a precedent for suspecting such a thing.

Is this incredibly dumb public slap in the face revenge for our lack of gratitude over Harbour Fest?

Matt said on Monday November 03, 2003 : url

I agree 100% - this Thompson bloke has totally overstepped the mark -who the HELL does he think he is !?
It's time for Jackie Chan to Kung Fu his ass !....

Jack said on Monday November 03, 2003 :

I saw him on the Frank Chin show the other evening, basically saying he had no regrets. But IMHO he seemd a little uncomfortable.

one of the 20% said on Monday November 03, 2003

Someone else and myself have made comments about the event is in fact a Gweilo Fest - in the sense that not only the content on stage, but also everything behind the stage. Among hundreds of people working on it, there are only 20% of them are from local. The whole thing is so much about the American egotism.

Phil said on Monday November 03, 2003

one of - I agree - this has been a gweilo fest - the opportunity to showcase local talent in all the affiliated areas (TV, security, stage management, etc.) was lost. That too me would have been worth some of the money

Jack said on Monday November 03, 2003 :

I've met Robert Chua. He's a very smart (and nice) guy. If he says the Whorebour Fest was badly run, then it probably was.

Capn_Fishy said on Tuesday November 04, 2003 :

gweilo fest??? twins???\r\n\r\nI\'d rather have my toenails removed with a pair of pliers!

bowaikit said on Tuesday November 04, 2003 :

Once again, further proof of why I am embarrased to say I am American. Forget the fact that my family has been there since the first permanent settlement (See the book history of Burrell's in America).
One more nail in my coffin for giving up US citizenship altogether.

Jack said on Thursday November 06, 2003 :

The final insult is that Harbour Fester has imported an Australian Elvis impersonator ('Elvoz'?) rather than use our home-grown Melvis to precede the Stones.

That's *not* all right, Mama!

Hans said on Thursday November 06, 2003 :

From the beginning, Hong Kong's nihilists and negativists shafted HarbourFest. It never had a chance because it was torpedoed by HK's hypercritics, the local media (including SCMP) and the local entertainment community even before it launched. Any comments from winging promoters, entertainers, TV production companies, record companies, etc. who were not part of the event have to be taken with a grain of salt.

I personally know the people that run AmCham. They've been in HK for years. They've promoted and invested in Hong Kong for years. Their primary motivation for proposing (in the midst of the SARS crisis) and offering to run this event was to help Hong Kong. AmCham also represents investors as a group that directly invest more into Hong Kong more than any one or any group, with exception of the Chinese government.

All this talk about local entertainment companies and talent is bull shit! I have yet to go to concert or event that wasn't completely messed up by local promoter or local event organizer.

Now the feeding freenzy and demonization of Mr. Thompson continues with baseless accusations, slander, vitriol, and abject inhumanity.

This elucidates how HK continues to go down the toilet. Perhaps AmCham will prefer Shanghai!

Jack said on Thursday November 06, 2003 :

Hans - I've been to plenty of excellent concerts and other entertainment events in Hong Kong, so maybe you've just been unlucky.

Without drawing any conclusions about the saintliness or otherwise of any individual members of AmCham, as a body and as business people they exist or operate to promote American, i.e. their own, business interests.

This happened to the extent of them vociferously opposing, publicly and privately, any moves towards democratisation in the pre-handover years ("not good for Hong Kong", "Not what Hong Kong people really want", "Hong Kong people aren't interested in politics" - how kind of them to presume to speak for others in this way), all of which conveniently did their pockets no harm at all, and all of which have been proven by July 1st to be false. This was well covered in a topic on Gweilo Diaries some months back.

So, while these people may indeed wish Hong Kong well, enlightened self-interest is what really counts in the end.

Fortunately, Hong Kong itself has enough gumption to rise above these meddlings.

It's ironic that your rant against negativity concludes with a comment about HK continuing "to go down the toilet." How positive is that?

Hans said on Thursday November 06, 2003 :

Jack, the claim that AmCham lobbied against democracy is false. In fact, AmCham Hong Kong played an important role in lobbying the US Congress to pass the Hong Kong Policy Act, which was written to monitor and track democrat as well as renewing the MFN status of China.

Hans said on Thursday November 06, 2003 :

continued.. Hong Kong Policy Act required the State Dept. by law to monitor democratic developments and political stability in HK. Moreover, throughout the 1990's, AmCham Hong Kong was actively trying to lobby the US Congress to preserve China's MFN status because it would damage HK if it was revoked. In the wake of Tiananmen square, AmCham also hosted many speakers that spoke out against the crackdown.

"enlightened self-interest is what really counts in the end" How is AmCham profiting HarborFest?

Certainly, self-interest is involved. But that self-interest for AmCham is helping a place that they call home.

Jack said on Thursday November 06, 2003 :

If Harbour Fest had been a less qualified success than it has been so far (at least, from the taxpayers' and long-term residents' point of view), there would have been a lot of kudos and resulting influence for AmCham, and therefore commercial benefit for its members.

And of course getting 5-year commercial rights (to present a the one-off message that SARS has gone - hmm, really?) has the potential to be worth something, particularly with a big chunk of the commercial risk underwritten in the first year.

Unfortunately, at least judging by Henry Tang's stance, it has backfired so far as political kudos is concerned.

Hopefully, however, as James Thomson suggests, the publicity materials generated by the event (videos, etc.) will more than compensate Hong Kong later for how it has looked on the ground and at the time, and of course for the cost.

Hans said on Thursday November 06, 2003 :

Why am I negative? Because I awash in a sea of negativity that people like you are purveyors of. Hong Kong won't rise above it because people like you and the rest of the nihilists are drowning it.

If the discussion on HF were about constructive criticism, then I would support it.

However, it clearly hasn't been. It's been about meanspirited, prejudicial, self-serving, arm-chair vilification by people that don't have the boldness nor the initiative to get up and do something for Hong Kong.

Hans said on Thursday November 06, 2003 :

AmChamHK doesn't need to do HF to get political kudos. It represents American firms that invest approx. $30 billion annually. This is why AmChamHK is the largest American chamber outside the US. This gives them a key to the front door. That is why Henry Tang and all the others in govt. will continue to kiss AmCham's ass.

Jack said on Thursday November 06, 2003 :

I don't notice Henry Tang kissing
AmCham's arse at the moment. It looks more like he's getting his own political kudos out of kicking it.

There is no doubt that US business has kudos and exercises clout in proportion to its size. But who says it doesn't want more?

The motives for taking on Harbour Fest may be a combination of commercial self-interest and ego, with perhaps a bit of altruism thrown in. However, at least part of it is the first of these, kindly subsidised by the HK tax payer.

Jack said on Thursday November 06, 2003 :

Hans - I just saw the first of your two posts above. The short answer to your (again) destructive comments about Hong Kong is that Hong Kong has *already* risen above it. It put SARS behind it well before Harbour Fest, without any help from outsiders or government, just as it has done with numerous supposed body blows in its past.

Since you don't know me, you have no idea what I (and presumably other posters) do for Hong Kong, nor am I going to enlighten you on this. If you want to make unjustifoed assumptions, that does not place any obligation on others to rebut them - it merely detracts from your credibility. But please don't let that stop you in your own vilification of people whose pride in Hong Kong has been offended by some aspects (note the moderation) of the way Harbour Fest was financed and organised.

Wanting Harbour Fest to use local talent to prove the point that Hong Kong is a place of skilled and talented people and therefore a good place to come and invest is hardly unconstructive, especially if it results in Harbour Fest II getting it right.

Phil said on Thursday November 06, 2003 : url

A wise man once said to me, argue the issues, not the people

Jack said on Thursday November 06, 2003 :

Indeed. Go for the ball, not the man. Unless you're Chopper Harris, of course.

Hans said on Thursday November 06, 2003 :

This comes from the people who vilified Thompson. Do you know him? So much for being about the issues!

Hans said on Thursday November 06, 2003 :

Phil wrote.."Someone please investigate and see whether there is a personal connection between Mr. I want to help Hong Kong Thompson and this US company, In Motion Films"

That certainly isn't about the issues. That's personal. Your entire barrage of vitriol is personal.

Phil said on Thursday November 06, 2003 : url

Actually, with the exception of that comment, which I will explain the thinking behind in a second, it has been far from personal:

I have nothing to hide

So says AmCham chief Jim Thompson. I have no reason to think he does. I donít know the man but I know people who do and according to all accounts he is a generous and well-meaning human being.

It is unfortunate then that I really want to see the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) turn him upside down and shake out his pockets.

Why? My tax money went through a company he owns into a venture that has been exposed as badly organised and with money shifted to companies, who were known associates of Mr. Thompson, who had no expertise in what they set out to do.

He has not given a satisfactory answer as to why East Art, set up by a friend of his and fellow member of AmCham, got $390,000 when EMI offered to do it for free.

He says Red Canvas was not used to do anything but pay the vendors so as not to expose AmCham to liabilities. That may well be true but:

1. This is public money, which means his word is not good enough.

2. The original disclosure in the contract that Red Canvas Ltd. was a "special purpose vehicle" that will be "wholly owned by members of AmCham," actually meaning that the company has been owned by Thompson and his wife for three years sets off alarm bells which would silence The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I do not find that vitriolic, in fact I thought it was quite reasoned while still expressing displeasure. There are questionable decisions and I want to know the reasoning behind them.

I do not blame AmCham for having an idea. For that I applaud them. It is a lot more than many others do. Nor will I deny at all that AmCham represents considerable business interests responsible for a lot emplyment in Hong Kong - we know the statistcs for international versus foreign employers.

Nor do I think for one minute that Mr. Thompson was on the take (as was suggested by one commmenter and refuted by a number including me) as his company Crown along with his other business interests has taken him far beyond the point of financial independance.

But some of the decisions look bad to me and I care because it is public money (how many times have I said that now?).

It was the public slap in the face to the Hong Kong Broadcasting industry, which I happen to personally disagree with, which I found distateful and which set me off. I believe he was absolutely wrong to say that in a public forum and I have every right to say so.

And thus, that particular comment, the only one I believe you will find in a post that can at all (and only at a stretch) be called vitriolic, is my response to some decisions that taken all together construe a pattern which appears to be suspicious.

Were that not to be the case then I would be perfectly happy.

One last time. The standards with public money are very high and this did not meet them.

I, by the way, actually really liked the concept of Harbour Fest at first, until I found out how much it would cost and how it was being put together. I would have been very happy if it had worked out - happy for me as a music lover, Happy for Hong Kong and happy for those who organised it getting the kudos it deserved.

My question to you is this. Out of nowhere you have come out fighting hard. Did someone ask you to or are you simply recitifying the injustice of the public daring to complain about how there tax money is spent?

Hans said on Thursday November 06, 2003 :

I knew that would generate a response from you Phil.

The vilification campaign wasn't about the public. The public didn't have a chance to see if this would work because it was wrecked by vested-interests and sour grapes before it even started.

"Out of nowhere you have come out fighting hard" Not really. It is wholly reactive. I think an injustice has been done to Thompson and AmCham and I am responding to it. I happen to like what the people at AmCham do. They've done some great things for HK over the last few decades.

Mafu said on Thursday November 06, 2003 :

"His company Crown along with his other business interests has taken him far beyond the point of financial independance".

Oh ! so he's rich and therefore 'uncorruptable' ?.....

In my experience the more money people have - the more they try to bend the rules to fit their needs/wants (legal or otherwise) - recent (dare I say "widespread") corporate ethics violations by very-well-paid (Predomninantly US) CEO's appears to 'back up' my theory.

That aside-

Even if they didn't do it for any other reason than for goodwill - they screwed up bigtime.

When you are running an event -you are in a unique position to 'control the message' AMCHAM and Invest HK had plenty of opportunity to put positive 'spin' on a lot of the questions raised at an early stage, but instead of using professional PR to manage the message they allowed Mike
'pitbull' Rowse to talk to the media in a manner that can only be described as "condecending" this has raised the Ilk of many people both local and Western because this attitude is exactly the one that we are seeing more and more these days from both the HK Government (and US Government) (ie. "we know best" "we hold the moral high ground" "shut up little people").

Well screw that -
there are a lot of smart well educated people in this town who can see the writing on the wall -this was a opportunity for certain people to raise their public profile and to be seen to be doing good for HK - no argument with that per se.
However -this Ego gratification/career justification is being done with tax payers money !

Other than the comments about the abilities of HK's Broadcasting industry which did DAMAGE to Hong Kong's reputation I have nothing bad to say about Jim Thompson - the buck should stop with Mike Rowse who was overall in charge of this event and is obviously in way over his head.

As a government official in charge of funding a very public event that went so BADLY wrong it seems to me that that he needs be held accountable.

Phil said on Thursday November 06, 2003 : url

Mafu is today's voice of reason.

Jack said on Friday November 07, 2003 :

Hans - the critics of Harbour Fest, including myself, are not vilifying anyone. They are merely expressing opinion and giving fair comment on a matter of concern to them. Assertions made about the handling of matters are purely comment arising from, for example, concern that resources, including Hong Kong's reputation, may not have been best utilised.

It may seem irksome to people who had the best of intentions, but fortunately fair comment is still allowed in Hong Kong and this goes with the territory of having or taking a public position.

However, so far as the attitude of the media is concerned, both TV and the paper you single out for criticism, I agree that they do indeed have a lot to answer for, but not for their criticism of Harbour Fest.

If the SARS epidemic, which resulted in far fewer man-years of lost life than road accidents do each year in Hong Kong, had not been overblown by our media, from which overseas media at least partly draw their own reports, whipping it up into a campaign of fear and more or less paralysing HK for that period, there might never have been a need to change anyone's perception of Hong Kong because of SARS.

While I think the idea of an annual Harbour Fest is a good one, and the big name concerts so far seem to have been successful musically, I think linking the event to SARS (in effect, reminding the world about SARS in Hong Kong) was unnecessary, ill-conceived and counter-effective.

But I repeat my previous comment that I hope, as James Thompson suggests, the publicity materials generated by the event (videos, etc.) will more than compensate Hong Kong later for how it has looked on the ground and at the time, and of course for the cost.

Getting back to Melvis, who is an official tourist attraction of Hong Kong, I still do not understand how anyone could overlook him for the Elvis impersonation slot, unless it is because they don't let him into the American Club.

Hans said on Saturday November 08, 2003 :

Mafu and Phil,
Voltaire said that "prejudice is the reason of fools."

To without evidence accuse or suggest Thompson committed a malfeasance is contemptible and legally actionable.

It is also interesting that, if there indeed was incompetence or a transgression, you think the buck stops with Mike Rowse.

Shouldn't Henry Tang be where the buck stops since it is his office that signed the contracts (and not his predecessor as he initially suggested) which allowed for use of the "special purpose vehicle" and the employment of foreign companies? Moreover, he is part of our fearless leader Tung Chee Hwa's accountability system.

Hans said on Saturday November 08, 2003 :


That's just it. There was very little "fair comment" or constructive criticism.
HF was murdered by the media months before it started. Even a staff member at the SCMP told me that many reporters felt that it was getting unfair coverage from the City section. Since publicity is everything for an event like this, it didn't have a chance.

As for the SARS coverage, I very much agree with you there (I think it is a similar example of a media-driven hooey). Not only was SARS overhyped but people didn't get the real picture or information on what was happening.

What is interesting and tragic is that pollution in HK has a comparable attrition rate of killing people to SARS? It is all year round yet you don't have any where near the concern in the media or action in government.

In regard to Melvis, I would think it would be best to keep him in the LKF venue. The first time I saw him sing was 16 years ago in Hardy's and he couldn't hold a tune then. Hahaha

Jack said on Saturday November 08, 2003 :

Hans - you're probably right about Melvis. I'm pretty sure I know more of the words to Elvis songs than he does.

Phil said on Saturday November 08, 2003 : url

I have not - I have suggested that the public has a right to see this investigated by the ICAC because it is public money involved to the tune of $100 million. I have also said that certain fact together raise suspicion and do not look right. Feel free to point out where I have directly said he has done anything illegal or dishonest and stateed such as fact and if I agree I will correct it or clarify it because that has never been my intention.

Mafu said on Saturday November 08, 2003

I didn't say Thompson was on the 'take',

All I'd said was - "just because people already have money, it doesn't mean they aren't corruptable".

Incidentally the correct translation for that Voltaire quote is:

"Prejudice is opinion without judgement".

However- you are right about Henry Tang, he deserves a good slap as well....

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