China's LeTV Launches Own Smartphone, Pacts With Top Directors

LeTV Mobile Phone H 2015
AP Images/Invision

The private entertainment company, whose LeVision Pictures film unit is a growing force in production, will link up Zhang Yimou, Tsui Hark and Zheng Xiaolong with increased content.

Leading private Chinese entertainment company LeTV has announced a link-up with leading directors Zhang Yimou, Tsui Hark and the TV producer Zheng Xiaolong in a new strategy centered on the group's freshly launched smartphone.

The strategy involves working with Hong Kong director Tsui, whose The Taking of Tiger Mountain earned a massive $223 million at the box office, to set up a media technology innovation lab in Silicon Valley. LeVision chief executive Zhang Zhao outlined the strategy at a ceremony to launch the new smartphone, which took place in the MasterCard arena in western Beijing, site of the 2008 Olympics basketball events.

Zhang said the group had a three-part strategy involving Beijing, Los Angeles and Silicon Valley.

The event was attended by Tsui and Zheng (Red Sorghum, Empresses in the Palace), while Zhang (Coming Home, Raise the Red Lantern) appeared on a video screen, as he is has just started shooting the Legendary East movie Great Wall.

"With such a large population, China should have its own technology, it should keep pace with other technology in the world and influence other countries," said Tsui.

Under the new link-up, users of LeTV phones will have special access to TV shows by Zheng and to Tsui's and Zhang's films.

The decision to go into the smartphone market is the latest sign of growing overlap between the Chinese entertainment industry and tech platforms in a country where 60 percent of people now access content via mobile platforms such as cell phones and tablets.

The group's LeTV Smart Mobile unit is headed up Feng Xing, former vp of PC maker Lenovo.

LeTV's film unit, LeVision Pictures, was a significant investor in The Expendables 3 and also produced the Zhang Yimou film Coming Home. It has a stake in the wildly successful Tiny Times franchise and is involved in John Woo's epic The Crossing.

In December, LeVision Pictures picked up its first U.S. project, an epic fantasy adventure titled 8 Immortals, inspired by Chinese mythology, from the writer Jeremy Breslau. It's the first in the company's plan to make China-Hollywood blockbuster co-productions.

The group is led by CEO Jia Yueting. In October it opened an office in L.A. and launched a $200 million film fund to make tentpoles.