Film crew pair get suspended sentence for possessing prop money, movie industry calls case a “joke”

Man holds up the counterfeit money used as props for an award-winning Hong Kong gang film. screengrab via Apple Daily video.

Members of the city’s film industry have condemned a court decision to hand suspended jail sentences to two film crew for possessing counterfeit money that was used as props in an award-winning film.

Cheung Wai-chuen, the 55-year-old owner of a film props company, and Law Yun-lam, a 35-year-old logistics company employee, were sentenced to four months in prison — suspended for two years — at Eastern Magistrates’ Court yesterday, Apple Daily reports.

According to the newspaper, the prop bank notes were used in the 2016 film Trivisa, an action gangland thriller set around the time of the 1997 handover about three mobsters planning a hit.

Law had reportedly borrowed some of the fake cash for a prank and police found 10,000 of the fake notes in his car in November. The following day, police found 200,000 more prop notes at Cheung’s workplace.

Although the notes had the words “props” marked on them in English and Chinese, principal magistrate Cheung Kit-yee told the court that the money looked too real, adding that “nobody could rule out the risk of people stealing these fakes and using them as real money.”

The word “props” marked on counterfeit cash used for a Hong Kong film. Screengrab via Apple Daily video.

When asked by reporters after the sentencing if he would appeal, Cheung said he would consult lawyers first, Apple Daily reports.

A statement published by the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers last night described the case as an “international joke.”

It added that there had never been a similar prosecution anywhere in the world, and that the ruling forced the entire film industry to give up on serious filmmaking.

“This is against the industry’s dedication to professionalism in filmmaking. The authorities’ took on a case that was unjust. Members of the Hong Kong film industry are not only disappointed and furious, it also sends shivers down our spines,” the statement read.

“Not only is our hard work not appreciated. Such treatment will only kill the Hong Kong film industry in the end.”

Members of the film industry also sought to claim that the sentences were linked to the influence of the Chinese government.

Trivisa was banned in China, with observers citing the fact that one of the film’s co-directors Jevons Au was also one of the directors for the political dystopian film Ten Years, which was also banned by central government authorities and stirred controversy for its anti-mainland theme.

Trivisa won the award for best film at the 2017 Hong Kong Film Awards. Broadcasts of the ceremony on the mainland were cut when the decision was announced. Ten Years, meanwhile, won best film at the 2016 Hong Kong film awards.

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