Big Media orders Chinese

Hong Kong firm plans 12-15 films

Hong Kong-based production company Big Media is set to reinvigorate the Chinese-language market by launching a HK$250 million ($32 million) slate of 12-15 projects in Mandarin and Cantonese this year.

Established as the production arm of Hong Kong film and TV group Mei Ah Entertainment, Big Media has been detached from the Mei Ah financial structure since the sale of 21% of its stake in January to Chinese investor Brandon Wen. However, Big Media will continue to utilize Mei Ah's business network and subsidiaries in China and Taiwan to foster co-productions and promote the film industry in the Greater China region.

To this end, Big Media is adapting a market segmentation strategy to target markets in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and regions further afield.

Its 2008 projects range from commercial films to prestige pictures, with budgets between HK$10 million-HK$100 million ($1.28 million-$12.8 million).

In line with the trend of Hong Kong-China co-productions, one-third of the slate will be co-produced with Chinese studios.

"Butterfly Lovers," a high-profile action-romance by director Jingle Ma, headlines the 2008 slate. Charlene Choi ("Kung Fu Dunk"), of the pop duo Twins, has replaced her scandal-plagued bandmate Gillian Chung to star with Wu Chun in the update of the oft-adapted folk tale.

Other highlights include "Marriage With a Fool II," the sequel to the 2006 surprise hit starring swimmer-turned-pop star Alex Fong; "Turandot," director Ching Siu-tong's action-fantasy; the Louis Koo starrer "The Kung Fu Couple" by director Wilson Yip; and horror-comedy "V for Vampire" by Vincent Kok, featuring Sammo Hung and Ronald Cheng.

Also in the pipeline are the romantic comedies "Roommate," by director Joe Ma and singer-actress Gigi Leung, and "Kill Bride"; Yang Yazhou's "Show Your Happy Life," featuring Jiang Wu and Gao Yuanyuan; and the provocatively titled "Video the Love," also starring Gigi Leung.

Since unveiling the ambitious plan to make 100 films in five years in March 2007, the production shingle has invested in 12 films, including the Taiwan and Hong Kong chapters of the "Winds of September" trilogy, which will make their world premieres at the 32nd Hong Kong International Film Festival that kicks off today.

"The implementation of the 100-film plan has been going smoothly. Apart from the 12 films produced, some projects had been delayed due to scheduling conflicts," Big Media executive director Charley Cheuk said. "The 100-film plan is an investment proposal, not a heroic promise. We have to adjust the plan according to market needs and risks."

As well as launching an Asian distribution project to promote new directors from Hong Kong, China and Taiwan, the company has established an artist management division to find and nurture new acting talents in the region.

The move corresponds to the bold decision to jump-start the careers of 30 newcomers in the Eric Tsang-produced "Winds of September" trilogy, two films of which were produced by Big Media. "Marriage With a Fool II," targeted at the local youth market, also will showcase a group of Big Media talents.

Although no longer an associate company of Mei Ah Entertainment Group, Big Media's productions will continue to be exclusively distributed by Mei Ah, which saw its stake in Big Media drop to 2.3% after the sale. The acquisition of Big Media's stake by Chinese investor Wen will pose no impact on the company's operations, Cheuk said.

"Mr. Wen had a full understanding of Big Media's business plans for the next few years before the purchase and is confident of its development," Cheuk said.