Berlin: New Chinese-Funded Film Venture Making Animated Pic 'Kong' (Exclusive)

8:30 AM PST 02/10/2014 by Pamela McClintock, Clifford Coonan

UPDATED: The movie -- based on the Monkey King legend -- is the first title from Aquamen Entertainment, which will be based in L.A.

BERLIN – A collective run by Internet mogul Robin Li -- China's richest man -- is financing a new film production venture that will be run by Korean filmmaker Jeongjung Kim and Chinese producer Gary Zhang.

The first title from Aquamen Entertainment is the 3D CGI tentpole Kong, based on the famous Chinese Monkey King Legend and intended to be one of the largest Asian animated projects ever mounted. Kong will be developed in association with a Korean animation studio, although Kim and Zhang intend to hire a Hollywood director.

Aquamen is based in Los Los Angeles.

Kong, sporting a $40 million budget, is the latest movie or television property to be adapted from the classical Chinese novel Journey to the West. The film will tell the origin story of the titular character, who was born from molten rock in the Earth's core, but will also feature sci-fi elements, including aliens and robots.

Li is president of the Chinese Cultural Chamber of Commerce of the Private Sector, a collective of hundreds of Asian companies with total assets of more than $1 trillion dollars. It is the first national organization in the cultural sector approved by China's State Council, and was formed last year. Zhang serves as the collective's vice chairman.

Li is first and foremost known as the chairman of Baidu, China's largest Internet search engine. Late last year, he surpassed Wang Jianlin, chairman of the Dalian Wanda Group, to become China's richest man, with a reported net worth of $12.2 billion.

With Kong, the new production venture is looking to energize the Asian animation sector.

Animation has been the poor relation in the Chinese film business for a long time, and previous attempts to make a big animation feature, such as Through the Moebius Strip in 2005, have floundered. But growing technical sophistication has seen some breakout animated features do well at the box office.

Recent successes include the Pleasant Goat, the Big Big Wolf franchise and Boonie Bears: To the Rescue, which has taken in $35.8 million so far at the box office (as a way of comparison, Despicable Me 2 has earned north of $52 million).

Aquamen intends to announce a director for Kong during the Cannes Film Festival in May.

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