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Beleaguered Hong Kong comedy auteur Stephen Chow has inked an online film deal with China’s Tencent Video, following his recent commitment to produce an animated Monkey King feature for Netflix. Chow’s announcement was made during the annual Tencent Video conference, on the eve of the Shanghai International Film Festival, just days after updates of his legal tussle with Shanghai New Culture Media surfaced, for which he is being sued for $131 million over alleged breach of contract.
While there are no details of the Tencent deal yet, Chow’s move to create content for streaming platforms is seen as a bid for career revival, after his recent films suffered long delays or turned in lackluster box office performances. The comedic icon, who dominated the Hong Kong box office as well as pop culture landscape in the 1990s and early 2000s, briefly reached new heights after shifting his focus to the mainland Chinese audience in the 2010s. The Mermaid, which Chow wrote, produced and directed, topped the Chinese box office in 2016 with a whopping $529 million, becoming the first film to break the RMB 3 billion mark and was at one point the all-time highest grossing non-Hollywood film worldwide. However, next came The New King of Comedy in 2019, a sequel to his 1999 film, which earned only $97 million in China and didn’t even make the top 10 of the year.
Caught in an endless loop of reworking tried and tested material — The Monkey King animated film for Netflix is Chow’s fifth time telling the classic Chinese story; his upcoming film is a delayed sequel to The Mermaid – the 58-year-old comedy legend is in need of a boost if he wishes to best himself. In turn, some optimistic commentaries are hopeful that Chow’s Tencent foray — which he called “a deepened collaboration” — would raise the standard of the content on offer in the online streaming space in China, where quantity tends to trump quality.
For now, the superstar is battling his former collaborators at New Culture. The two parties signed an agreement in 2016 for the latter to acquire a 40 percent stake of Chow’s company Premium Data Associates Limited, and for the company to deliver yearly target profits for four years, which it did for only three. New Culture now has asked Chow to reacquire the 40 percent stake it holds plus interests, amounting to $131 million, but Chow has lodged a countersuit against New Culture over outstanding payment for the acquisition in the first place. Last October, Chow denied media reports alleging he was facing financial difficulties, even threatening legal action against “fabricated stories” of huge debts.
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Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
Paul Walter Hauser