China / HK Macao Taiwan

Taiwan's ex-lawmaker George Hsieh makes mark in showbiz

(China Post) Updated: 2016-05-09 15:27

TAIPEI, Taiwan - Former Keelung legislator George Hsieh, in a surprising twist, left a promising political career to break into the entertainment business. Within a matter of months, Hsieh has become the chairman of a movie company, Hualien Media International and a newspaper, The China Post, establishing himself as an up-and-coming media mogul looking over an expanding empire.

Before announcing he would bow out of the race for a seat in this year's legislative election, Hsieh served three terms as a lawmaker representing Taiwan's Keelung City for nearly 11 years since 2005.

After assuming the role of chairman and executive producer at the movie giant Hualien Media International Co last March, Hsieh oversaw the success of the romantic comedy "Our Times." The popularity of the film in Asia eventually made it the highest grossing box office hit in Taiwan film history, generating NT$400 million in Taiwan alone, and NT$1.9 billion together with sales in the Chinese mainland.

Working with Hollywood

Under the strategic direction of Hsieh, the firm moved its headquarters from Taipei to Hong Kong, and directed attention to Hollywood and the greater ethnic Chinese market.

Recently, Hualien teamed up with former president of Marvel Comics and "superhero guru" Stan Lee to develop action thriller "Arch Alien" as a movie franchise — the project would include an original film production, merchandise, a comic book and a theme park, added Hsieh.

Hsieh also announced in March plans to launch another Hollywood production "World Breaker," which will be produced by Ridley Scott, the legendary director of "Gladiator," "Alien," and the more recent film, "The Martian." The movie will be shot in Xinjiang and at studios in Beijing, starting September this year.

"I hope we can make the world see that Xinjiang could be a preferable option for shooting fantasy movies than New Zealand or Scotland," said Hsieh during a press conference in Beijing on March 2 to announce the two blockbuster co-productions. "Our goal is make films that incorporate Chinese elements, as well as reach Hollywood standards."

Hsieh said in the past, it would have been difficult to convince such big names to make Chinese motion pictures. But Lee and Scott both showed great interest in working with companies like Hualien because they see great potential in the Chinese movie industry, added Hsieh.

Rising Force in Global Film Industry

"Major challenges still exist whenever the Chinese mainland film industry tries to form strong, sustainable relationships with Hollywood. But we (Hualien) did it. We are able to establish trusting and lasting connections with Hollywood. This capability is our strength," said Hsieh.

China Central Television (CCTV), the state television broadcaster in Chinese mainland, previously lauded Hualien's partnership with the two renowned Hollywood producers as a huge stride toward "the era of the Chinese film industry," as well as an opportunity to give voice to and market China to the world.

"We want to promote the breathtaking scenery in China to a worldwide audience," said Hsieh.

More recently, the Hualien Group announced in April that Oscar-winning sound editing and mixing experts Scott Millan and Per Hallberg have jumped on the bandwagon, with both appointed as advisors for future productions — the two have won a combined total of seven Academy Awards. Millan won four Oscars for best sound in "Apollo 13," "Gladiator," "Ray" and "The Bourne Ultimatum," while Hallberg was recognized in the best sound editing category for the three films "Braveheart," "The Bourne Ultimatum" and "Skyfall."

Despite a slowdown in the overall economy, many film industry analysts believe Chinese mainland is on track to have the largest film audience in the world, as early as 2020. Currently, Chinese mainland's movie ticket sales are second only to the US In 2015, box office revenue hit a record $6.8 billion, up 49 percent from the previous year, according to Chinese mainland's movie regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.

According to the US commission's report, Chinese mainland is building at a rapid rate of 15 new movie screens daily in new and existing cinemas. North American currently has approximately 39,000 screens, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Bloomberg reports that Chinese mainland is expected to have 53,000 screens by 2017.

The 'new' China Post

Hsieh also recently forayed into the newspaper business, becoming the new chairman of The China Post, a major English-language news provider in Chinese Taiwan, established in 1952.

"The original owners did not intend to continue running (the newspaper) but I see it as a platform, aimed at reporting financial, cultural and entertainment news," stressed Hsieh.

Hsieh previously announced future plans for The China Post, including more opportunities for cooperation and information exchange with China Daily, the leading English-language media in the Chinese mainland.

"China Daily has a global circulation of 1 million and a sizable following of 50 million people on Weibo."

Like a duck to water

Responding on his thoughts about changing playing fields from politics to business, Hsieh said he did not encounter too many issues on adjusting, and expressed that he found the business world more agreeable and flexible.

"Don't forget, I have a master's in Management of Technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)," Hsieh remarked jokingly.

Hsieh said that besides placing the utmost importance on the management of the Hualien Group, he will start integrating the firm's resources with that of Taroko Sports — Hualien's largest shareholder, headed by George Hsieh's elder brother, Hsieh Kuo-dong.

George Hsieh took the chairmanship of the Hualien Group last March, following his withdrawal from the legislative race the previous month.

He has since pushed for innovative research and development and readjusted operations within the firm, such as with the introduction of a television production department.

The global ambition of the group is stronger than ever. Hsieh revealed his vision for Hualien was to expand in Hollywood and break into the mainstream market, in a bid for the firm's content and productions to have access to film audiences worldwide, beyond Chinese mainland and Taiwan.

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