Media Asia Group eyeing consolidation

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BUSAN, South Korea -- John Chong, CEO of Media Asia Group, a co-producer of Pusan International Film Festival opener "Assembly," says the Hong Kong company and its sister recording and talent management firms are consolidating into a media and entertainment group he expects to go public in Hong Kong or New York in two or three years.

Owned by Hong Kong-listed E Sun and controlled by real estate tycoon Peter Lam, Media Asia dabbled previously with public listing in Singapore, where there was little media sector competition. It delisted in July after three years of thin trade as the firm sought to grow its profile with increasingly bigger budget film projects, Chong said.

The delisting also came after annual profits dropped 70% in 2006 to $HK6 million ($773,000) from more than HK$20 million ($2.5 million) the previous year, Chong said. Media Asia remains the most profitable of E Sun's holdings, which also include the Rich and Famous Talent Mangement Co., the East Asia Record Co. and A music, Chong said.

"We are going to consolidate all of the entertainment companies to perform together and see what we can do," said Chong, who calls Media Asia a "studio, like a mini-Warners."

"We need two or three years," he said.

Why wait until after the Beijing Olympics, the run-up to which is seeing a huge influx of investment dollars through Hong Kong?

Chong says the company is cash rich.

"Good projects are more important than having money," said Chong, who comes from a creative background in film.

Chong said that Beijing-based Huayi Bros. -- now contemplating a listing, too -- are Media Asia's competitors for good projects, but that he views their longtime relationship strategically.

"They are good at the China market, and we are good at the rest of the world," Chong said. Media Asia has worked with Feng Xiaogang's, China's most bankable director, on several of his pictures.

Media Asia will distribute Feng's "Assembly" in Hong Kong and sold its rights across Southeast Asia at the American Film Market last year.

Chong said he thinks that the Chinese civil war battles in the first half of "Assembly" will captivate Western audiences enough that they will want to understand its more complicated and emotional second half about modern Chinese political history.

An easier way for Media Asia to gain international attention perhaps has been seen in the resale rights both to "Infernal Affairs," the film on which Marin Scorsese's Oscar winner "The Departed" was based, and now to "Confessions of Pain."

Both films were produced and financed by Media Asia and created by Alan Mak, Andrew Lau and Felix Chong.

"Confessions" now is the No. 1 Chinese-language film in China this year, and remake rights sold to Warner Bros. in February (HR 2/27).
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