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Galloping Horse charges into China exhib biz

15-theater stable planned for 2011

BUSAN, South Korea -- Beijing Galloping Horse Film & TV plans to open 15 theaters next year, costing about 500 million yuan ($75 million), a company executive said Thursday.

The company plans to become the latest entrant into China’s booming cinema sector, where an average of one new screen lights up daily.

Each theater planned by the producer and distributor in China of Su Chao-pin and John Woo’s “Reign of Assassins” will have eight-12 screens, for a total of 100 screens by the end of 2011, Ivy Zhong, general manager of the company’s production division, told The Hollywood Reporter.

As China’s box office continues to grow – jumping over 80% in the first half of this year alone – production companies vying for greater control of their titles’ revenue in an increasingly competitive market are bucking for control of cinemas as one way to increase profits.

Starting with an all-VIP venue in Cixi City, Zhejiang Province, 80 miles south of Shanghai, Galloping Horse will dive into cinema circuit operation in the same year its CEO Li Ming hopes to list the firm on the stock exchange in either Shenzhen or Shanghai, Zhong said.

Working with, among other real estate developers, Hong-Kong-listed China Resources (Huarun), Galloping Horse’s cinemas will target China’s swelling urban middle class in cities such as Guangzhou, Chengdu, Harbin and Wuxi.

“The second theater we’ll open, in May in Guangzhou, is with Haiying,” Zhong said, referring to Guangzhou Haiying Group Co.

As China’s second- and third-tier cities build new shopping malls, their developers are keen to offset a portion of their overhead by signing long-term leases with cinemas that are believed to draw consumers ready to spend money elsewhere in the mall.

Galloping Horse also will develop theaters individually, Zhong said, adding that “each project and our partners really depends on the local economy.”

Galloping Horse’s past productions include the ongoing TV series “Three Kingdoms,” and, last year, the feature “Kungfu Cyborg: Metallic Attraction.” This year, the company produced “Just Another Pandora's Box” and will next be involved in Hollywood director Rob Minkoff's “Chinese Odyssey” and Zhang Yibai’s “Cherish Our Love Forever.”