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Visionary touch

By Raymond Zhou | China Daily | Updated: 2013-12-11 07:07

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In China's film industry, the usual way of grooming new talents is to cast newcomers in projects with big-name directors. Kong does the opposite: he surrounds a new director with a stellar cast of veterans. "I did not work the magic," he brushes away his clout, "it's the script that attracts these big stars. JetLi gave up his usual paycheck of 10 million yuan to star in Ocean Heaven because the story about an autistic youth dovetails with his idea of charity."

By the way, Ocean Heaven is also the movie Kong is most proud of even though it failed to be profitable. "Movies need to make money, or we cannot sustain our business. But it's also about art and other things. If you look at the top-10 greatest movies in history, most of them started as money losers." This is not high talk as Kong owns the MOMA theater, the only art-house cinema in Beijing, which regularly screens quality fare with little box-office attraction.

Conventional wisdom says there is a severe shortage of qualified producers in the business, and Kong concurs. What he does not agree about is the source of future producers. They will come from marketing and distribution, he insists. Currently, the few acknowledged producers tend to be erstwhile directors. Kong likes to rotate his staff in different positions so they have a comprehensive knowledge of the business.

Besides, Kong diverges from industry consensus on the impact of outside funding, derogatively known as "money from coal-mine owners". "It is good for the industry," he insists. "A lot more projects are possible because we have more of this capital available. I was invited to produce Hollywood films after the success of Crouching Tiger, but there were 25,000 producers in Los Angeles better qualified than I was. All they needed was funding. So, I'll stick with the China market."

About outside money inflating star salary and churning out shoddy works, Kong is philosophical: "If they lose money doing their first movie, that'll awaken them to the need and value of professional producers."

Kong has made big movies, small movies and moderately budgeted ones that yielded envious returns on investment. Does he see any future in the big-budget costume epic, currently perceived dead? "To tell you the truth, this genre hasn't even started yet. "He won't elaborate, but it's pretty certain that if he launches into this genre again, it'll take on a new look.

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