China-Hollywood Deal Flow Turns Into Flurry
The company was in business with Jiang, Zhang Yimou and Feng Xiaogang some 15 years ago when Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia was set up in 1999 in Hong Kong to make Chinese-language pictures for a waiting global audience.
The unit was quietly shuttered in 2005 when it emerged that the business model was not quite right and the global market was not ready for Hollywood-stoked Chinese fare.
The same fate almost certainly beckons for some of the new Sino-U.S. ventures that have been announced in the past fortnight, but as of now it is unclear which will succeed.
This time around there are many more companies willing to wager that they can get it right. And the bets are going in both directions.
- The March 17 deal between Bruno Wu’s Seven Stars Entertainment and London- and North American-based Content Media, will see money and content flow both East and West. Content will acquire Wu’s film, TV and sports unit Alive Group, while Alive will release Content’s shows in China.
- Earlier this month, Disney revealed that it has partnered with state-owned, but somewhat free-wheeling, Shanghai Media Group to develop and produce action, adventure and fantasy films for the Chinese and international markets.
- Hollywood producer Robert Simonds (“Happy Madison”) said that he too is working with SMG on a $1 billion, 10-films per year slate of movies. His initiative is backed by TPG, a U.S. financier with a large Asian exposure, and Hony Capital, a Chinese investment firm with connections to SMG.
- Luc Besson’s Paris-based EuropaCorp revealed that it is working with Shanghai-based Fundamental Films on a picture called “Warrior’s Gate.”
- Wanda Cinema, part of China’s enormous property-to-movies group, called up the U.K.’s Pinewood Studios to help design its studio, festival and museum complex to be built in the coastal city of Qingdao. Pinewood is also involved with Wu’s Seven Stars.
- Going in the other direction, Huayi Brothers Media, China’s largest private-sector entertainment company, told the Shenzhen Stock Exchange that it is to invest $120 million-$150 million in former Warner Bros. chief Jeff Robinov’s new Media 8 company and its upcoming slate.
- And Jeff Berg’s Resolution talent agency received a capital injection of undisclosed size from Chinese venture capital firm Bison Capital Holdings. The firm has holdings in AirMedia, China’s leading operator of out-of-home advertising platforms. Bison’s founder Xu Peixin has a stake in NASDAQ-listed Bona Film Group.
- Meanwhile, Sony confirmed that it is backing Chen Kaige’s martial arts actioner “The Monk” and a Chinese remake of “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” both with New Classics Media. That is in addition to the previously announced involvement in Jiang Wen’s “Gone With the Bullets,” and acquisition of North American rights to Zhang Yimou’s “Coming Home.”
The strategies behind each deal differ slightly, but each is predicated on the apparent need for the world’s two most financially significant film industries to work together.
The Chinese film market has become too large for Hollywood – studios or independents – to ignore.
Looking the other way, from a Chinese private-sector point of view, involvement in Hollywood brings prestige and a potential for profit on a different scale from incremental international sales for any home-grown movies.