China's Wanda Pushing Film Credentials With 'The Palace'

5:14 AM PST 08/13/2013 by Clifford Coonan
Wang Jianlin, chairman of Wanda Group and China's second richest individual

The conglomerate, whose chairman Wang Jialin is China's second richest individual, wants to be a major player in the cultural industries as well as a real estate giant.

Wanda Media, the production and distribution arm of Chinese real estate conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group, is stepping up its efforts to become a major player in the "cultural industries" with the opening of costume drama The Palace.

The movie is a love story set during the Qing Dynasty and features Zhou Dongyu, who made a big splash for her role in Zhang Yimou’s Under The Hawthorn Tree, and also features Lu Yi, Zhao LIying and Chen Xiao.

The movie was directed by Pan Anzi and opens in China today.

STORY: Wanda Orders Up to 120 New Imax Theaters for China

In May of last year, Wanda bought the North America's second-largest theater chain, AMC Entertainment, for $2.6 billion to create the world's biggest cinema owner, and the group is keen to exploit the distribution synergies that the acquisition offers.

For the next three years, the company plans to distribute nine films and produce eight annually.

"With the support of Wanda Group, the company is also seeking to set up slate financing agreements with major Hollywood studios to get the financing and distribution rights for China, while also seeking to co-produce films with international companies," the group said in a statement.

Among Wanda Media's production credits so far are Keanu Reeves' directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi, Police Story 2013 with Jackie Chan and The Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven 3D with Donnie Yen and Chow Yun-fat.

As a distributor, Wanda has Jim Sheridan's Dream House, the Taiwanese epic Seediq Bale and Eng Dayyan's Inseparable with Kevin Spacey and Daniel Wu.

A key factor behind the expansion of the Chinese film business has been the number of cinemas opening in the shopping malls springing up over China. Many of those malls are being built by Wanda.

Wanda group has assets of $48 billion and an annual income of $23 billion, and operates 71 Wanda plazas, 38 five-star hotels, 6,000 cinema screens, 57 department stores and 63 karaoke outlets across the country.

The company is Imax's largest international exhibition partner since a deal last month when its exhibition unit Wanda Cinema Line Corp. pacted with Imax for up to 120 new theaters for China.

Wanda and Imax revised their 2011 joint revenue share agreement to add at least 40 and as many as 120 new theaters to be located throughout China, and the deal also extended Wanda's lease terms for all new theaters to 12 years, from 10, and will see Wanda commit to up to 210 theaters.

STORY: China's Wanda Group Says It Will Spend Tens of Billions on Entertainment

"We have set a great goal for this company. In 2020, the revenue will reach 80 billion yuan, ranking within the global top 10 of cultural industry players," company chairman Wang Jianlin told a gathering of entrepreneurs in December.

All told, Wanda comprises 11 companies working in nine different areas, including Wanda Cinema Line, AMC Theaters, its theme park business, gallery and a film magazine.

The group's culture unit, the Beijing Wanda Culture Industry Group, has registered capital of five billion yuan ($820 million) and total assets of 31 billion yuan ($5.06 billion).

"The Chinese film market is very big these days, and all flowers should be blossoming in this garden," said The Palace's scriptwriter Yu Zheng, adding that he expects the movie to have broad appeal.

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