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Setting the scene for success

By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily ) Updated: 2013-01-13 15:30:10

For Enlight Media CEO Wang Changtian it is the best of times, finds Raymond Zhou, who reveals the behind-the-scenes moves that made Lost in Thailandsuch a runaway hit.

The first week of 2013 has presented Wang Changtian with a new challenge: How to properly condu

ct himself in public so that he will not be seen as gloating - or indulging in false modesty, for that matter.

Setting the scene for success

Wang, CEO and president of Enlight Media, is being bombarded with congratulations and interview requests. A slapstick comedy released on Dec 12, by Enlight Pictures, the company's film unit, is breaking all kinds of box-office records.

By New Year's Day, the film had crossed the 1 billion yuan ($160 million) mark, beating Titanic 3D to become the No 1 movie of the year in a country where total box-office tallies are doubling every few years. And the company reveals that on Jan 12, one month after its release, the box office reached 1.2 billion yuan.

What makes the success so much sweeter is the moderate budget of Lost in Thailand, which was made for just 30 million yuan.

It does not have expensive stars or a big-name director. The trio of actors is well known, but not A-listers, and Xu Zheng, one of the actors, is a novice director.

But Wang does not agree that it is a dark horse film. "We worked hard on it," he comments.

More importantly, the movie follows strictly the formula of Hollywood genre comedy.

One of Wang's lieutenants was sent to a training camp given by Robert McKee, a writing instructor with many Oscar winners among his students. He returned to compare notes, surprisingly finding that what he learned and what Xu had done overlapped a great deal.

"It was like McKee had secretly participated in Xu's brainstorming sessions," Wang says.

"Purely commercially driven genre pictures should be the mainstay of the market," concludes Wang, who saw the stock price of his company go from 21 yuan on Dec 12, the day of the sleeper hit's debut, to 35 yuan on the final day of 2012.

However, the winning formula of genre pictures fails to explain many of the fiascos Enlight has produced in the past six years since it entered film production. There is a putdown in the industry that Enlight turns out only bombs.

"Every studio has its share of duds, but others have hits that make people forget about the bombs. We did not have a 'representative work' that we could proudly call our own."

That is, until now.

Wang goes on to explain that, financially, Enlight Pictures has been able to at least break even or make a small profit during its six years of operation.

"The projects for which we're the main investor all made money. It's those in which we were minority equity holders that lost money," he adds.

Wang does not have an interest in art-house fare. He stumbled onto a 6 million yuan movie that turned out to be Beijing Blues. It won the Golden Horse Award but failed to earn back its investment. "It was an anomaly. We'll focus on genre projects only."

Many of Enlight's projects, including 2012's The Four and The Assassins, were created by Hong Kong filmmakers, with Hong Kong directors or superstars in the cast. Chasing Hong Kong talent was Enlight's strategy from the beginning.

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