Mars Tsoi Chun-chung
The year was 2012 and the Iron Man movie franchise was on its way to a third film, sowing the superhero seeds for what would become a billion-dollar genre for Hollywood.
Tan Yi Hui reports: Mars Tsoi Chun-chung, then a 31-year-old fan with Iron Man fever running high in his veins, was shopping in Mong Kok when he chanced upon an immaculate action figure of the character by collectibles brand Hot Toys.
He snapped up the item for about HK$1,800.
Little did Tsoi know that this was the start of an expensive but fulfilling hobby that five years later, would see him amass more than 60 Iron Man action figures.
Today his collection stands at home in a sleek 2m x 2m light-up glass display.
“My wife is very supportive,” Tsoi said. “As long as I have enough for the family, she lets me buy what I want.”
Tsoi represents a breed of collectors in space-starved Hong Kong who have caught the toy bug. They are willing to splurge on high-end figurines of their beloved comic book and movie characters, cramming their homes or renting mini-storage units for their stash.
The high-end toy market itself is a recent and growing niche in Hong Kong’s toy industry – a sector that harkens back to the 1960s and 70s, when the city enjoyed its heyday as the world’s “toy town”.
Statistics from the Trade Development Council show that domestic toy exports have declined almost 40 per cent from HK$277 million in the whole of 2015 to HK$171 million from January to November last year.
But Yeung Chi-kong, executive adviser of the Toys Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Toys Council, said most local toy companies had shifted their factories to the mainland, so the full extent of the business, which is “positive”, was not being reflected.
“Our toy industry is moving towards the application of creativity, innovation and technology to meet market demands,” Yeung said, adding that while high-end collectibles represented a small segment of the industry, their demand was “growing”.
A company that has tapped into the pulse of this trend is Hot Toys, a home-grown brand that has achieved international fame for its uncannily lifelike 1/6-scale replicas of Hollywood actors in superhero roles – from Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, to Chris Evans’ Captain America and Christian Bale’s Batman.
CEO Howard Chan Ho-bun, a collector himself, has a 3,000 sq ft retail showroom for his business, which also doubles up as a display for some of his private collection.
Called Secret Base, the outlet, true to its namesake, sits on the 20th floor of Sino Centre in Mong Kok. Its location is known to fans mostly through word of mouth and on Facebook, where it has a following of 50,000.
Designed to look like the inside of a space ship out of a Star Trek movie, futuristic doors glide apart at the entrance, welcoming wide-eyed visitors into the man-cave of every collector’s fantasy.
Chan went from a struggling toy maker who cut his teeth in the trade by sleeping in Dongguan factories, to helming a company with Hollywood licences and offices in South Korea and Japan. … (read more)
Source: South China Morning Post