Business / Industries

China looks to top the bill in Hollywood productions

By Xie Yu (China Daily) Updated: 2015-04-24 07:19

LA moguls are looking longingly East as the mainland becomes a hefty box-office market, reports Xie Yu in Hong Kong.

Imagine Hollywood actor Matt Damon engaging in mortal combat with a bunch of sleazy-looking villains on the stone parapets of the imposing Great Wall of China. You're right. He wins against all the odds, as he always does.

Or if you prefer something less violent, but just as tantalizing, how about another scenario: Raven-hair Chinese beauty Li Bingbing races through the mean streets of Los Angeles on an even meaner Harley Davidson, chased by a group of burly bikers. She escapes but has the last laugh, of course.

In fact, you do not really need to stretch your imagination-because you could be able to buy a ticket to watch these scenes on a big screen near you soon, and you can count on Hollywood to produce many more such box-office hits centered on increasingly East-meets-West themes, in partnership with Chinese producers and funded by Chinese money.

"China-connect" was the buzzword of the annual Hong Kong International Film and TV Market, Asia's largest film and entertainment market, hosted by Hong Kong Trade Development Council late last month.

Nearly all the biggest-name US producers were there, rubbing shoulders with Chinese movie moguls and business tycoons keen on joining the star-studded business.

In the past, the Chinese mainland was valued by Hollywood producers as nothing more than a money spinner with an ever-increasing number of moviegoers captivated by US-produced big-budget blockbusters.

Now, however, they have found something that promises to be even more tantalizing: investment funds.

To further tap the potential of the Chinese market, Hollywood producers are trying to knit more and more Chinese elements into their blockbusters by filming on location in China and featuring Chinese stars.

Such exploits have attracted the attention of many Chinese real-estate tycoons, coal mine bosses and rags-to-riches industrialists, who have the money and a growing desire to buy their own slice of showbiz glamor.

"There is huge energy and interest among our members to navigate their way into China, which is now the world's second-largest film market after the United States," said Elizabeth Dell, head of a China Task Force formed by the Producers Guild of America, the highly influential trade organization representing television producers, film producers and new media producers in the US. Dell is also acting as an independent film producer.

The PGA set up the task force last autumn to meet soaring interest from its members in China-especially about how to get money from the market.

"We have also been receiving more requests to participate in China-based, or China-focused, projects in the United States. It is explosive," Dell said.

What is particularly exciting many Hollywood movie producers is that Chinese investment funds are beginning to pour millions into projects, big and small.

A growing number of producers, she said, are working Chinese angles into their movie plots, simply in the hope of attracting calls from eager investors with jumbo-sized egos on the other side of the globe. This huge surge in interest has happened only in the past two years, and already some of China's most successful entrepreneurs, flush with cash, have been eyeing Hollywood and throwing money into creating their own dreams there.

The latest move came in mid-March when Hollywood mini-studio Lionsgate Entertainment Inc, which produced the blockbuster Hunger Games, announced it had reached a three-year agreement with China's Hunan TV & Broadcast Intermediary Co Ltd to co-finance movie productions for the next three years.

Under the agreement, Hunan TV's wholly owned subsidiary, TIK Films, will bankroll one-quarter of Lionsgate's film production budget of $1.5 billion.

The planned list of titles includes Gods of Egypt, Now You See Me 2, The Last Witch Hunter starring Vin Diesel, Sicario and Age of Adalin featuring Blake Lively and Harrison Ford.

Hunan TV is China's second-largest broadcaster after China Central Television, and it is not the only Chinese enterprise trying to court Lionsgate.

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