JA Media jump-starts film, TV slate

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CANNES -- Beijing-based JA Media will spend $200 million making movies and TV over the next five years, the fledgling Chinese-language content production house said Saturday.

Managing director Elvis Lee said the company -- begun in March as a wholly-owned subsidiary of alternative energy company the Jian Group -- would start shooting its first five feature films this summer.

Each film carries a "presented by" credit for Sheng Xiaodong, head of the Jian Group, which has a net asset value of $490 million since it began producing biofuels from corn in 2003, a company statement said.

"This was a natural move for us. There are many places to invest in China's growing economy, but the capital investment in media is not that high relative to the risk of, say, real estate," Lee said.

JA will put up half the $12 million budget for "Jump," a dance drama set in Shanghai to be directed by Stephen Fung ("House of Fury") and co-produced by writer Stephen Chow's Star Overseas company. Edison Chen is set to star.

JA's first fistful of features will cost $30 million and also include films by Hong Kong directors Tsui Hark, Ann Hui and Stanley Kwan as well as the big-screen debut of Taiwanese commercial director Cheng Hsiao Zer.

JA is led by Lee and president Guo Jun and advised by Hong Kong film veterans Nansun Shi, Tsui's partner in the Film Workshop and Jeffrey Chan, who recently left Media Asia.

Hong Kong hearthrob Chow Yun-fat has expressed interest in the male lead in "Concubine," a period drama set in China and Vancouver based on Denise Chong's bestselling memoir "Concubine's Children." The $8 million film will start next year under Hui's direction and in co-production with her Class Ltd.

Biopic "Bruce" on martial arts legend Bruce Lee's relationship with his son Brandon will be made for $12 million starting next year. Directed by Stanley Kwan with production design and editing help from William Chang, Wong Kar Wai's longtime collaborator. Jimmy Ngai is developing the script and the film will be made in cooperation with the Lee estate.

Tsui's first JA film will be the comedy "She Ain't Mean," set to start by year-end on a budget of $2.6 million, and Cheng's feature debut "Miao Miao," is an $800,000 drama about two Taipei high school girls and the boy they both they both like. Jacky Pang from Wong's JET-TONE will co-produce with Stanley Kwan.

JA will also distribute as well as produce its own TV and film output and is setting up advertising and management arms.

JA has bought the TV remake rights for three serial dramas about martial arts legend Huo Yuan-jia from Hong Kong's ATV. The first will be released to broadcasters around greater China beginning in July.

"We're in this for the long-term," said Lee, adding that JA also is in talks about entering the theaters business with Beijing-based distribution company Poly Bona Lee, the business arm of China's army and long the premiere distributor of Hong Kong movies on the mainland.

China's number of movie screens rose roughly 30% last year, according to Kwan. "These screens are going to need the movies we make."
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