From 'Avatar' to Roman Polanski, the Top Entertainment Stories of the Year Overseas

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Chinese moviegoers watch "Avatar" in 3D.

James Cameron's film sets box-office records in China, and Swiss authorities rule not to extradite the Oscar-winning director to the U.S. to face a decades-old sex charge. See what else dominated headlines in 2010.

Jan. 4: China No. 2 market for Avatar

Avatar opens in China and goes on to gross $207 million, more than in any other country outside the United States, confirming for 20th Century Fox and other Hollywood studios that the People's Republic is fast moving toward becoming the second-largest movie market in the world, expected to overtake Japan by 2015. The James Cameron hit did especially well in 3D and IMAX at China's mushrooming number of modern multiplexes. The film's ticket sales were more than double that of the next-closest box-office contender, Aftershock.

 

Jan. 25: Japan's Liberty Media sells $4bn J:Com stake

Liberty Global sold its 37.8% stake in Jupiter Telecommunications, Japan's leading cable operator, to domestic telecoms outfit KDDI, for 367.1 billion yen ($4 billion) in cash. The sale looked to have set off a very un-Japanese battle for control of the company between KDDI and trading conglomerate Sumitomo – a founder of J:Com. But they appeared to have made nice in the end: Sumitomo increased its stake and KDDI is now co-operating on content developed through its phone network, called au mobile. J:Com has enjoyed modest growth through the tough times, now having 6.25 million revenue-generating users across its cable, phone and Internet services.

 

March 11: Stephen Chan, GM of Hong Kong's TVB arrested

TVB GM Stephen Chan and four other TVB employees were arrested on the charge of alleged corruption and conspiring to defraud the television station and its artists of HK$680,000 ($87,400) and funnel it out through a company Chan established with an assistant. TVB fired Chan immediately following his arrest, but reinstated him in November after three of the total of eight charges against him and his alleged cohorts were dismissed. The trial will resume in June.

 

March 29: Avatar becomes Korea's most-watched film

Avatar sells more than 13.01 million tickets, making it the most-watched film in South Korean theatrical history. Distributed locally by 20th Century Fox, Cameron's 3-D megahit sold more than 100 billion won ($87.3 million) in tickets, beating The Host, director Bong Joon-ho's 2006 homegrown monster flick.

 

May 24: Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul wins Cannes' top prize

Nicknamed Joe, or Apichat, this Thai director's fifth entry on the Croissette, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, took home the Palme d'Or, wowing judges from all over the world with a magical film about family ties and memory in his country's rural northern quarters. Poetry, by director Lee Chang-dong won best screenplay at the festival.

 

July 3: The Cove screens in Japan, finally

Following months of protests and threats of legal action, the Oscar-winning anti-dolphin-hunting documentary screened at theaters across Japan, the country where it was shot. In the end, the only successful legal action was an injunction against nationalist protestors forbidding them from disrupting the theaters' business.

 

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July 12: Roman Polanski freed

Seven months after his arrest in Zurich, Swiss authorities rule not to extradite the Oscar-winning director to the U.S. to face a decades-old sex charge. There is still an outstanding warrant for his arrest, meaning Polanski can only safely travel to France, Switzerland or Poland. Undeterred, he begins production on his new film, God of Carnage, starring Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster and Christoph Waltz. In December, his feature The Ghost Writer sweeps the European Film Awards. Polanski accepts his trophies via Skype from the safety of his home in Paris.

 

July 18: China sets deadline to open market

China sets a March 19 deadline to open its market to greater foreign participation in the import of copyrighted entertainment content, including Hollywood movies, in compliance with a World Trade Organization ruling handed down in December 2009. The MPA and Hollywood producers working in China hail the commitment as a milestone in the decade-long fight to gain greater access to a movie industry scrambling to meet booming demand from a rapidly expanding exhibition sector that is adding more than two screens per day. Skeptics point out that Beijing announced no specifics, fueling rumors that a 20-film import cap might stay in place.

 

July 21: China posts 86 percent gain at January-June box office

The Chinese box office surged 86 percent to $714 million in the first half of the year, lifted by Avatar's phenomenal success ($207 million) and other popular American imports such as Alice in Wonderland ($33 million), Iron Man 2 ($26 million) and Clash of the Titans ($25.8 million). The year-end box office take was forecast to hit $1.5 billion, up from the $909 million totaled in 2009. Ip Man 2, the second installment of a biopic of Bruce Lee's kung fu trainer, grossed $34 million and was the only Chinese-language mega hit in the first half of the year.

 

July 22: Aftershock starts record Chinese box-office run

Aftershock, by director Feng Xiaogang, opens for Huayi Brothers Media and IMAX across China, bringing audiences still shaking from the memory of the 2008 Sichuan quake to tears over the legacy of the 1976 Tangshan temblor, the deadliest in the 20th century, killing roughly 250,000 people. Feng's film, made for about $45 million, sold tickets worth 660 million yuan, or $100 million, by mid-September, making it the highest-grossing Chinese made film of all time.

 

July 26: U.K. Film Council shut down

Britain's new government shuts down the U.K.'s primary film funding body just as the organization celebrated its 10th anniversary. Clint Eastwood and an army of Brit celebs, including Emily Blunt, James McAvoy, Bill Nighy and Ian Holm, condemn the move, and tens of thousands sign a "Save the U.K. Film Council" online petition. The British government, however, is not moved, though it promises to keep Britain's lucrative tax incentive scheme to attract Hollywood productions to the island.

 

Aug. 9: News Corp. sells Chinese-language channels

News Corp. took a breather from China's small-screen space by selling for 5 billion yuan ($739 million) to media-focused private equity fund China Media Capital a controlling stake of Xing Kong, Xing Kong International, Channel [V] Mainland, and the company's Fortune Star Chinese film library.

 

Sept. 11: Sofia Coppola wins Venice

Coppola's Somewhere wins the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Italian critics cry foul, accusing jury president, and ex-Coppola beau, Quentin Tarantino, of favoritism.

 

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Sept. 12: French film giant Claude Chabrol dies

The 80-year-old director was credited with starting the nouvelle vague film movement of the 1960s and one of the great masters of the mystery and thriller genres. Phenomenally productive, Chabrol directed some 60 features and numerous TV series including classics such as This Man Must Die (1969) and Story of Women (1988).

 

Sept. 24: Australian union shuts down Hobbit in New Zealand

Aussie entertainment union MEAA, acting on behalf of NZ Actors Equity succeeds in recruiting SAG, Equity U.K. and other international unions, to join a strike against the two Hobbit movies in New Zealand. Producer-director Peter Jackson called the union an Australian bully. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key met with Warner Bros. and New Line after grass-roots protests threatened to move production offshore. Wellington responded by raising its 15 percent location incentives by $25 million and passing legislation clarifying laws covering film industry workers.

 

Sept. 27: Chengtian buys a stake in Legendary

Beijing-based and Hong Kong-listed Orange Sky Golden Harvest Entertainment, also known as Chengtian, paid $25 million for a 3.3 percent stake in Legendary Pictures, the Hollywood production company founded by Thomas Tull and the driving force behind global blockbusters such as The Dark Knight, Inception and Clash of the Titans. Chengtian chairman Wu Kebo gained a seat on Legendary's board. Together, the companies will produce and distribute films and online games in China and around the world, offering Legendary Partner Warner Bros. a potential inroad into China. Chengtian co-CEO Chen Xiaowei formerly ran Nasdaq listed Chinese gaming giant The9.

 

Oct. 19: James Packer re-enters the free-to-air TV sector

Three years after selling out of his family business, the Nine Network, Packer takes an 18 percent stake in third-ranked broadcaster Network Ten for $245 million. Packer then sold News Corp. scion Lachlan Murdoch half that stake, and the pair have agreed to "act in concert" on any matters concerning Ten.

 

Nov. 8: Cho Hee-mun, KOFIC head forced to resign

Cho Heemun, the chairman of the Korean Film Council, was forced to resign after months of controversy over his alleged act to pressure juries selecting candidates for the government supported film body's independent film production grants. Cho's resignation after one year in the job echoes the resignation of his predecessor, Kang Han-sup, who stepped down after the council received the lowest grade of all Korean public agencies in the government's annual performance review.

 

Nov. 11: Dino De Laurentiis dies

The Oscar-winning Italian producer of cinematic classics including La Strada and Nights of Cabiria, commercial fare such as Barbarella and Death Wish and the Hannibal Lecter trilogy of Manhunter, Hannibal and Red Dragon, dies at age 91. A Hollywood who's-who, including California first couple Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver and filmmakers David Lynch, Baz Luhrmann and Sam Raimi attends his funeral in Los Angeles. "10 strong men on PCP did not have the energy of Dino," Lynch said in his eulogy.

 

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Dec. 8: Youku.com lists on the NYSE

Youku, one of China's leading online video sharing websites, raises about $203 million in its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, well above underwriter Goldman Sachs' expectations. Shares of the Beijing-based company went on to jump 161 percent that day, the largest gain in any U.S. trading debut in five years, signaling U.S. investor excitement about getting in to China's booming web entertainment space, home to 420 million Internet users, a number greater than the entire U.S. population.

 

Dec. 20: Jafar Panahi sentenced

The Iranian government sentences director Jafar Panahi to six years in prison and bans him from making films for the next 20 years. The regime convicted Panahi of colluding in the gathering and making of anti-government propaganda. The director drew the government's ire by backing an opposition candidate in Iranian presidential elections last year. Directors including Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Redford and Martin Scorsese as well film festivals around the world rally to his support, demanding Tehran release him.

 

Dec. 22: Rupert Murdoch closes in on BSkyB

The European Commission approves News Corp.'s deal to buy the 61 percent of British pay TV giant BSkyB it does not already own. British news providers virulently oppose the move, which they claim will give Murdoch a stranglehold on British news. The British government could still block the deal. But Murdoch's staunchest opponent, British Business Secretary Vince Cable, was kicked off the job of overseeing the BSkyB acquisition after he told undercover reporters he had "declared war" on Murdoch and would block the deal.

 

Dec. 23: Zhang Yimou casts Christian Bale

China's most famous movie director, Zhang Yimou, casts the Dark Knight, Christian Bale, in his upcoming film about 13 Flowers of Nanjing, about atrocities committed by Japanese troops against Chinese citizens in 1937. Zhang's $90 million budget, Bale and the hiring of Dark Side FX from Hollywood, the team behind The Dark Knight's spectacular look, could make the film China's biggest play yet to break into the U.S. market, which still outgrosses China's booming box office 10-1.

 

-- Gavin Blair contributed to this report from Tokyo; Pip Bulbeck from Sydney, Karen Chu from Hong Kong, Stuart Kemp from London, Jonathan Landreth from Beijing, Park Soo-mee from Seoul and Scott Roxborough from Cologne.

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