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Kylin Pictures says statements made to the Chinese press about its feud with Bliss Media are protected speech and it is asking the court to toss a defamation suit arising from them, according to a motion filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Bliss and its CEO Wei Han sued for defamation in January, claiming Kylin CFO Leo Shi Young made defamatory statements describing Bliss as a “shell company” and Wei as a “swindler.”
The statements were made months after a settlement between the two companies resolved a lawsuit over the acquisition rights to Birth of the Dragon. According to the complaint, Kylin sued Bliss and attorney Bennett Fidlow in 2015, but settled with Bliss and voluntarily dismissed its claims a year later. (The claims against Fidlow are pending.)
Attorneys for Kylin Pictures, Michael Weinsten and Andrew Brettler, argue that the statements were made in a public forum, concerning a matter of public interest and are clearly protected speech.
While anti-SLAPP motions are ubiquitous in Hollywood disputes, this one is novel. Here, Kylin is asking a California court to protect under the First Amendment statements that were made in China, a country which isn’t exactly renowned for free speech.
The motion filed Tuesday, however, does much more than just raise this quirky issue. It paints a vivid picture of an ugly, escalating resentment between the two companies.
Kylin claims the present dispute emanates from a $1.5 million lawsuit filed in China in December claiming that Bliss unlawfully deleted its production credit from the Chinese version of Hacksaw Ridge. Brettler argues that the defamation suit was filed in retaliation for a press conference that Kylin held in Beijing earlier that month to address the Hacksaw Ridge dispute and its contentious relationship with Bliss.
“Bitter and concerned that they will face liability for their wrongful conduct, Han and Bliss Media desperately sought for a way to strike back at Kylin Pictures following the press conference,” writes Brettler. “Seemingly, they resolved to file this meritless defamation action based on the innocent (and privileged) statements Kylin Pictures’ representatives allegedly made at the press conference and/or in its legal papers.”
Brettler argues that, given the success of Hacksaw Ridge and the widespread interest in both Kylin Pictures and Bliss Media, the statements are clearly of public interest. Further, he argues the statements are protected opinion based on facts.
“[B]oth articles are completely transparent in that they lay out all the facts upon which Young formed his conclusions, and readers were put in a position to draw their own conclusions about Han and her company,” writes Brettler.
He also argues that the suit should be dismissed because Bliss relies on uncertified English translations of Chinese-language articles to support its claims and, in the purported translations, the source of the statements is unclear.
A representative for Bliss Media sent The Hollywood Reporter a statement Wednesday morning: “We have not yet reviewed the motion but have little doubt that it is meritless. There is no question that the statements made by Kylin’s executives were defamatory, with Bliss filing suits in both China and California. The statements may initially have been made in China but they have been picked up and have appeared on numerous websites around the world. Kylin does business in California, including having sought the assistance of California courts to redress its purported grievances, and it should not be permitted to go to China to spew defamatory statements and then claim protected speech.”
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