Berlin: Chinese Streamer Huanxi Takes 'At Eternity's Gate,' 'Never Look Away' (Exclusive)

Lily Gavin/CBS Films
'At Eternity's Gate'

Powerhouse studio Huanxi Media Group has emerged as a busy buyer of prestige content as it looks to feed its fast-growing, high-end streaming platform Huanxi Premium.

Rising Chinese studio Huanxi Media Group has acquired the exclusive Middle Kingdom streaming rights to a trio of prestige European dramas, including Julian Schnabel's Vincent Van Gogh biopic At Eternity's Gate, German filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's Oscar nominee Never Look Away and the upcoming period soccer film The Keeper.

The pickups are part of an expansion strategy for the company's in-house streaming service Huanxi Premium, which is envisioned as China's first dedicated HBO-like destination for high-end content.

"We think there is still huge opportunity for a more curated version of a streaming service [in China]," says Steven Xiang, Huanxi's CEO, who is attending the Berlin International Film Festival to support the release of the studio's competition entry One Second, directed by Zhang Yimou.

Huanxi also is expected to be a busy buyer of top-shelf content at the European Film Market — which should come as welcome news to U.S. and European sales agents. Although China's film market has grown exponentially over the past decade, the major Hollywood studios have by far benefitted the most, as Chinese cinemagoers traditionally favored filmmaking in the blockbuster register, and regulators limited the volume of foreign imports.

The past few years have brought a diversification of Chinese tastes, however, as well as new purveyors looking to feed the new demand, such as Huanxi Premium.

At Eternity's Gate has earned Willem Dafoe his first best actor Oscar nomination, while Never Look Away, which is based loosely on the life of German painter Gerhard Richter, is nominated in the best foreign-language film category. The Keeper, meanwhile, stars David Kross (The Reader) and Freya Mavor (The Sense of an Ending) in the true story of Bert Trautmann, a German who went from being a prisoner-of-war to becoming a legendary goalie for England’s Manchester City soccer club. It is set for release in Europe and the U.S. this spring.

Huanxi Media was founded by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon co-producer Dong Ping in 2015, following the sale of his former studio, ChinaVision Media, to Alibaba Group for $805 million the year prior. The company has grown into a powerhouse of the Chinese industry in rapid time, thanks to a slew of exclusive partnerships signed with many of the most influential filmmakers working in the Chinese language, such as Zhang, Wong Kar Wai, Ning Hao, Jia Zhangke, Xu Zheng, Peter Chan and more. T

he pedigrees of these partners has helped the studio hit the ground running: Its releases so far include Jia's Cannes competition entry Ash is Purest White; last summer's smash hit Dying to Survive ($451 million), and the top title of Chinese New Year 2019, Hao's Crazy Alien ($136 million and counting after three days).

Huanxi's deals with its directors include the exclusive right to stream their new work on Huanxi Premium. Some of the filmmakers, including Zhang and Wong, also have agreed to direct their first online series for the platform.

Huanxi Premium launched in September and already has amassed a subscriber base topping 1 million. Xiang says the company is looking to augment its high-end domestic content with prestige international fare.

"We are definitely looking to partner with these kinds of content producers — award-winning, film festival-participating, independent films," Xiang says. "The key word is high quality."