Big profits, growth at China's Hengdian

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Liu Zhijiang, president of Hengdian World Studio, said Thursday that his company — operator of the biggest film and TV back lot in the world — has grown profits 20% on average over the past five years.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Liu, who did not reveal earnings for the private firm, pointed to its recent tie-up with other international content producers as evidence of its reputation for cost savings.

Hengdian is where Jackie Chan and Jet Li shot the upcoming Lionsgate release "The Forbidden Kingdom," and Liu said that the studio envisions hosting the production of 100 hours of television drama a year and 10 films over the next three to five years.

To start out on this goal, Hengdian will begin a new partnership with Salon Films of Hong Kong, announced by Salon chairman Fred Wang last week at the Hong Kong International Film Festival.

"The first project will probably be a TV series, since Salon told us they have got some scripts," said Liu, whose 18 historic sets include a replica of Beijing's Forbidden City.

Hengdian offers complete film shooting services, but Liu said its real draw is its labor costs.

"If filming in Hengdian, the cost will be less than half that of the U.S. or Hong Kong," he said.

The Hengdian-Salon partnership will be finalized next month, Liu said.

Liu said he expects the partnership to bring in overseas producers with an interest in the Chinese market, adding that it will help its foreign partners get official approval for new TV or film projects. That's something that might help them avoid the trouble faced recently by the Weinstein Co. when it had to relocate the Joan Chen-John Cusack starrer "Shanghai" to Thailand and England after China denied it shooting permits.

"We can consult with experts and relevant officials in advance," Liu said. "That's why foreign film companies need a Chinese partner."

In return, Salon and the other partners will supply modern film technology to Hengdian, some on loan and some permanent.

A joint-venture digital filmmaking center also will be part of the agreement, which will supply filmmakers with postproduction services.

Hengdian belongs to the privately held Hengdian Group. Since opening in 1996, more than 500 films and TV series have been filmed there, including Ang Lee's international breakout hit "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

Alex Dai contributed to this report.
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