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Disney to produce film in and for China
Updated: 2005-12-14 21:32

LONDON - Walt Disney Co. is making its first movie in China, an adaptation of a local children's book, joining a growing field of Hollywood studios seeking access to the nation's tightly controlled media and entertainment markets.

A picture from the Chinese black-white version of the movie, made in 1963 about the story. [file]
Disney said on Wednesday its Walt Disney Studios was co-producing "The Secret of the Magic Gourd" with local investors Centro Digital Pictures and The China Film Group Corp.

"We feel their participation is exactly what's required in ensuring that this film lives up to the expectation of generations of Chinese audiences," said Mark Zoradi, president of Disney's Buena Vista International distribution arm.

Centro's work may be familiar to Western audiences because it created visual effects for such films as "Kill Bill," "Shaolin Soccer" and "Kung Fu Hustle." China Film is, among other things, the only government-authorized importer of foreign movies and therefore works regularly with Hollywood studios.

The cost of the "Magic Gourd" production was not disclosed, but the companies expect to finish main filming early next year and a nationwide theatrical release in China in the second half of 2006. It began shooting in Hangzhou in October.

Disney expects to distribute the film outside China, a spokeswoman said, but no specific plans have been set. Because the story is similar thematically to that of its other popular titles, Disney expects to find audiences in other countries.

Although Disney opened a theme park in Hong Kong in September and is exploring one in Shanghai with government officials, rivals News Corp. and Time Warner Inc. were quicker to pursue local production in China.


Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger has broader ambitions for the company in China, including launching a Disney Channel and distributing content over broadband and mobile phones.

In addition to pursuing local production, Hollywood has been increasingly using China as a shooting location to take advantage of unique vistas and low costs.

Bernardo Bertolucci's 1987 film "The Last Emperor" was one of the earliest Western productions in China, with sets at the Forbidden City in Shanghai.

Logistic and political issues, however, kept Hollywood from ramping up business in China until a few years ago when Quentin Tarantino shot his martial arts "Kill Bill" movies in Beijing in 2002. They were made by Miramax, which was then a Disney subsidiary.

The distinction for "The Secret of the Magic Gourd" is that Disney is working with local partners and producing a film specifically for the Chinese market rather than importing its U.S.-based material.

The story, written by the late Zhang Tianyi, was first published in 1958. It is about an imaginative little boy who happens upon a mysterious gourd with the apparent power to help him accomplish everything he desires.

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