Hollywood Reporter's Top 10 China Power Players 2016

6:00 AM 11/2/2016

by Patrick Brzeski, Abid Rahman

From teaming with Spielberg to choosing which Hollywood releases end up in Chinese theaters, these 10 executives are at the forefront of the Middle Kingdom's push into global entertainment.

THR_Wang Jianlin_9936_06_0406_embed - THR - EMBED 2016
Joe Pugliese

A semi-abstract colored ink work titled 'The 10,000 Mile Great Wall,' by Chinese artist Shi Qi, one of Wang’s favorites, hangs above his desk. Art collecting is one of the chairman’s private passions, and Wanda sponsored an exhibition of Shi’s work at the Louvre in 2012. Although he says he prefers Chinese modern and contemporary art, Wang purchased a $28.2 million Picasso in 2013 to diversify his collection, which includes more than 1,000 works valued at an estimated $1.6 billion, according to Wanda. The company is developing plans to build a museum in Beijing.

  1. 1

    Wang Jianlin

    Wang Jianlin, China's richest man, normally doesn't go to the movies. He does, however, make one exception — for his 90-year-old mother. Their trips to the cinema are the rare occasions each year when the notoriously driven chairman of Chinese real estate conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group fully checks out from work.

    "I won't be disturbed at all," he says emphatically. "Because the time is to be spent with my mom. Filial piety is an important Chinese virtue."

    Read the full cover story here.

  2. 2

    Jack Ma

    The affable Ma's Alibaba Group long has been rumored as a suitor for a Hollywood studio, but as yet, the energetic 52-year-old has kept his powder dry on a prospective mega deal. From humble beginnings as an English teacher in Hangzhou, Ma, China's second-richest man with a fortune estimated at $28.3 billion, has built Alibaba into an internet behemoth with multibillion-dollar businesses in internet retail, online video, online auctions and now movies.

    Alibaba Pictures was built nearly from scratch in 2014, and Ma's fledgling studio has invested in a slew of Hollywood tentpoles, including Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation and Star Trek Beyond. In September, Alibaba Pictures took a minority stake in Steven Spielberg's Amblin, and the signing ceremony in Beijing saw Ma take the stage with the renowned director.

    On Nov. 1, Ma also unveiled a new $1.48 billion fund to catalyze growth and kickstart expansion within its entertainment and digital media businesses. During last year's Singles Day — China's version of Black Friday — Ma tipped his hand to how he plans to synergize his entertainment and online shopping businesses. To kick off its online sales campaign, Alibaba hosted a huge gala celebration on live television that featured Kevin Spacey in character as Frank Underwood from Netflix's House of Cards and Daniel Craig promoting the James Bond movie Spectre. The event generated $14.3 billion in sales in only 24 hours.

  3. 3

    Ma Huateng

    Known affectionately in China as "Pony" Ma, the "mild-mannered engineer" turned billionaire, 45, heads one of the world's leading internet companies — ranked only behind Amazon, Google and Facebook, respectively, in revenue — which counts among its assets WeChat, China's biggest messaging app with 806 million active users.

    Tencent has escalated its overseas ambitions with a slew of investments this year, including an $8.6 billion acquisition of gaming giant Supercell, maker of Clash of Clans; a partnership with WME-IMG to create WME-IMG China; and minority investments in Bob Simonds' STX and IM Global's new television venture. Notoriously private and publicity-shy, Ma has an estimated fortune of $24.4 billion, and he recently became one of China's biggest philanthropists after gifting his charitable foundation $2.15 billion.

  4. 4

    La Peikang

    From his lofty position as the head of the state-backed CFG, which handles the distribution of all imported Hollywood movies, La has been dubbed the most powerful man in the Chinese movie industry. As well as picking and choosing the Hollywood movies that get a coveted slot in the infamous quota, La slowly has transitioned CFG into a big-time movie investor, although so far with mixed results. For every hit CFG has invested in like Furious 7, there have been such turkeys as Seventh Son and Pixels. But La is pursuing ambitious production plans for China Film Co.: In July, the company said it plans to produce 53 movies and 14 television dramas as well as build 91 new theaters over the next three years.

  5. 5

    Li Ruigang

    A consummate dealmaker, Li, 47, quietly has gone about making Shanghai-based CMC something of a gatekeeper to the China market. Often known as the "Rupert Murdoch of China," Li is just as happy with headline-grabbing partnerships such as the Warner Bros. tie-up Flagship Entertainment as he is with taking minority stakes in Imax's China business, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard's Imagine Entertainment and reviving Hong Kong's storied Shaw Bros. A firm believer in investing in the future, Li has led CMC to invest early in a wide range of VR companies. He told THR that the "excessive pursuit of profit at the cost of quality of content" is the biggest threat facing the Chinese film industry.

  6. 6

    Wang Changtian

    Under the stewardship of Wang, 51, Beijing Enlight has risen to become the second-biggest Chinese movie studio in revenue terms after Wanda. Enlight, which counts Alibaba as a minority shareholder, has had a string of homegrown blockbuster hits including Stephen Chow's $553 million monster The Mermaid and the multimillion-dollar Lost in a franchise that now spans three movies. With a net worth pegged at $2.1 billion, Changtian also committed Enlight to working with Hollywood talent in the form of Star Trek Beyond director Justin Lin's Shaolin Temple remake.


  7. 7

    Zhang Zhao

    China's biggest proponent of close collaboration with Hollywood, Zhang, 54, pulled off a coup in September when he installed former Paramount president Adam Goodman as the head of a newly formed Los Angeles-based arm, Le Vision Entertainment.

    Le Vision is a subsidiary of the wildly ambitious Beijing-based technology company LeEco, whose diverse business interests span online video services, e-commerce, smart TVs (it bought U.S. television maker Vizio for $2 billion in July), mobile phones, virtual reality and even an internet-connected electric car called LeSEE. Content is said to sit at the core of all of these projects, and Le Vision is developing a slate of 10 tentpole-scale movies intended to be co-productions with U.S. studios. Le Vision, according to Zhang, hopes to "become a worldwide film and television production company that can compete with the six Hollywood studios."

  8. 8

    Yu Dong

    Last year was a transitional one for Yu and Bona, which has been listed on the Nasdaq since 2010. Yu, 45, made the decision to take Bona private in 2015 with the goal of relisting back home in China, where the capital markets are red hot (IPO approval still is pending).

    Now China's fourth-largest private studio by box-office performance, Bona last year plowed $235 million into Fox's tentpole film slate, including the X-Men franchise and Independence Day: Resurgence. "The continuing integration of the world's two largest markets — the U.S. and China — will produce excellent films to lead the world for decades to come," says Yu. "Behind the rapid growth of the Chinese industry, many of our investors and CEOs are ambitious entrepreneurs with young teams filled with creativity and dreams."

  9. 9

    Wang Zhongjun

    One of China's first private film companies, Huayi Brothers was established by Wang, 57, and his younger brother, Wang Zhonglei, 47, in the pre-box-office-boom days of 1994. The studio has hit a rough patch, with its share of China's box-office revenue slipping from 10 percent in 2012 to about 2 percent today. This year, Wang has been setting the stage for a comeback, snapping up such key exec talent as Joe Aguilar from Oriental DreamWorks to oversee a new animation division and Jerry Ye from Wanda to be CEO of film production. Huayi had developed a reputation in Hollywood for big partnership announcements that went nowhere after failed talks with Legendary and Jeff Robinov's Studio 8. However, Huayi then inked a huge 18-picture financing deal with STX in 2015.

  10. 10

    Robin Li

    After years of stellar growth, Li's online search-cum-content giant Baidu has found the going a little tougher of late, experiencing its first quarterly revenue decline in the third quarter. Now the canny Li, 47, has been focusing on artificial intelligence and entertainment content — at the Shanghai film festival in June, the search giant vowed to devote $300 million to its nascent film subsidiary, Baidu Nuomi Pictures. The company also controls iQiyi, China's closest answer to Netflix.