Shanghai: Bona Film Group Buys Stake in Actress Li Bingbing's Talent Agency

Li Bingbing

Bona said the deal would make it the second-largest shareholder in Hesong Media, the talent agency founded by 'The Meg' actress Li Bingbing.

Chinese studio Bona Film Group has taken a stake in Hesong Media, the talent agency founded by A-list actress Li Bingbing, co-star of last year's giant shark blockbuster The Meg with Jason Statham.

Hesong declined to share the size of the investment, but said Bona would become the agency's second-largest shareholder. The deal was unveiled at the Shanghai International Film Festival, where Bona held a lavish party celebrating its 20th anniversary in business.

Li launched Hesong in 2009 to manage her own acting career in China and nurture a stable of Chinese screen talent, such as TV star Zhao Liying and approximately 15 other emerging talents. Many top Chinese actors — including Fan Bingbing, Jackie Chan and others — have leveraged their star power to launch their own agency within the country's fragmented talent landscape.

Li is repped by UTA outside of China. She has cultivated a career in Hollywood with more success than many of her peers, appearing in U.S. projects like Resident Evil: Retribution (2012) and Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), as well as The Meg.

Chinese business news outlet Caixin, which was the first to report Bona's investment in Hesong, speculated that deal was likely motivated by Bona's efforts to streamline its access to talent ahead of a long-planned re-listing on China's capital markets.

Bona became the first Chinese media company to list on the Nasdaq in 2010, but the studio was privatized in 2016 in the hopes of re-listing at a higher valuation in China, where shares in entertainment firms were then red-hot. But regulators soon hit the brakes on new IPOs and Chinese investors have since soured on film companies, following a deceleration in box-office growth and a series of industry scandals.

Bona, headed by company chairman Yu Dong, has maintained a strong position in the Chinese film sector despite such setbacks. The company produced China's top title of 2018, Dante Lam's military action flick Operation Red Sea (box office take: $575 million). Its forthcoming slate includes three patriotic action movies, each based on real events: The Bravest, about a firefighter rescue; The Chinese Pilot, featuring a heroic crash landing; and Dante Lam's next big-budget vehicle, The Rescue, about a military operation at sea.

Internationally, Bona has a large stake in Roland Emmerich's upcoming WWII movie Midway and is an investor in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.