Chinese film studios set sail to find new opportunities overseas

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/8 20:03:39

Fundamental Films CEO Gao Jingdong (left) and director Luc Besson Photo: Courtesy of Zhu Meiling


Inset: A scene from Taken Photo: IC

While China's property and entertainment conglomerate Wanda Group has run into some trouble with its ambitious plan to buy one of Hollywood's so-called Big Six studios, Shanghai-based film company Fundamental Films has wrapped up a deal with leading French motion picture company EuropaCorp to become the latter's second largest shareholder by the end of September.

Unlike Wanda's sudden push to invest in Paramount, Fundamental's marriage with EuropaCorp comes across as a more natural fit as the two have been in a relationship since 2012. According to Fundamental's website, it has "shepherded" the release of a number of EuropaCorp's blockbuster hits in China, including 2014's Lucy starring Scarlet Johnson and the last of the Taken series.

"We are delighted to further strengthen our close links with Fundamental Films and the booming Chinese market," said EuropaCorp founder and renowned French director Luc Besson in a statement as quoted by the Hollywood Reporter on September 29.

While the merger of these two media enterprises seems to be a welcome event by both sides, Wanda's recent attempt to buy Paramount Pictures was rebuffed, while its current push to acquire the Golden Globe Awards producer Dick Clark Productions and to ally with Sony Pictures are viewed by many in Hollywood as both aggressive and worrisome.

Relations between the Chinese and overseas film industries have been growing ever tighter. Recent years have witnessed an increasing amount of Hollywood films trying to pander to audiences in China by awkwardly inserting Chinese celebrities and other elements into their films, while China's movie investors have been pouring more money into overseas film studios with the expectation of seeing more Chinese stories and stars play more important parts in co-produced projects.

Yet, as with any relationship, there will always be numerous ups and downs.

Rocky road

Cross-border marriages between Chinese capital and foreign movie studios have become increasingly common in recent years.

As recent as August, in what the Los Angles Times called "the latest example of Hollywood's push into China," Wanda struck a deal with big-screen theater company IMAX.

The new deal will see Wanda add another 150 theaters to its chain over the next six years.

This is not the only deal IMAX has struck with Chinese cinema chains. According to the Los Angeles Times, IMAX's commitments with Wanda and other chains will see its current 335 screens in China, which account for nearly one-third of IMAX screens around the world, increase to 742.

For sure, the increase is aimed at China's growing appetite for 3D and IMAX films.

And this appetite is not limited to foreign films.

According to IMAX's website, the company is planning to "increase the number of local-language films and expects to release anywhere from eight to 10 local-language films in China in 2016, counting the previous releases of Monkey King 2 and Kung Fu Panda 3."

Co-productions have also been a welcome means to get around the limitations China has on importing films. 

China's Starlight Media recently struck a deal with famous Australian-Chinese director James Wan - known for his 2015 hit Fast and Furious 7, which garnered a stunning 2.4 billion yuan ($3.6 billion) box office revenue in China. The company also has a project in the works with Christopher Newman, producer of the HBO fantasy show Games of Throne, to coproduce a TV series aimed at bringing the life story of China's first and only female emperor Wu Zetian to a global audience. Both of these are examples of deals that have been warmly welcomed by both sides.

However, not everyone is happy about China's growing ties with Hollywood. According to a Friday report from the New York Times, Wanda's "aggressive" Hollywood push, for instance, has at least one US politician calling for the US Department of Justice to investigate into the matter. In many US media reports, Wanda Chairman Wang Jianlin is portrayed as a figure closely "allied with" the Chinese government due to his military background. This connection is probably one of the main reasons why Wanda's Hollywood ambitions have sparked fears that acquisitions will end up becoming a channel for Chinese propaganda.

Yet Wang has denied ties to the government. In an interview with Reuters published in August, Wang explained his goal is to "buy Hollywood companies and bring their technology and capability to China."

With this goal in mind, the billionaire regarded the buying of a Big Six studio as "a necessary step" to the building of "a real movie empire."

Symbiotic relationship

While foreign studios are potential resources that can help Chinese companies improve, the domestic market in China is also proving to be a boon for overseas filmmakers.

"Large co-produced film projects in the future will feature international productions led by Chinese investors," said Yu Dong - president of Bona Films, one of China's largest movie distributors - during a forum at the Beijing International Film Festival in April.

"This means more young Hollywood directors and Asian directors will come and dive into the Chinese market."

Despite concerns about the flow of Chinese capital into the US film industry, even US studios can't deny that Chinese moviegoers have helped bail them out on occasion, as was the case of the Warcraft film released in June. Although the film did poorly in the US, both critically and commercially, its performance in China pretty much guarantees there will be a sequel.

Charles "Chuck" Roven, the Hollywood veteran whose production company Atlas Entertainment produced Warcraft, welcomed Chinese money.

"Thank God for China," Roven said, as reported by the Telegraph in September.

Newspaper headline: Tighter bonds

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