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Chinese industry members reckon the departure of Han Sanping as head of the state-run China Film Group Corporation (CFGC) is unlikely to mean any major shift in attitude towards Hollywood, and his successor Li Peikang‘s international background may even lead to closer ties with the world’s second biggest industry.
With signs emerging of the possibility of liberalization of mainland China’s distribution system to allow more competition, China Film Group will have to brush up its international credentials to make sure it maintains its strong position.
Han is a fervent nationalist, but is also a big fan of Hollywood. One story tells of him doing a perfect impression of Will Smith during a visit to Los Angeles — for Will Smith. Han was personally responsible for pushing the Jackie Chan remake of The Karate Kid with Jaden Smith.
The Han succession issue is closely watched because the stakes are getting higher all the time — Chinese box office was $3.6 billion last year and is expected to reach $4.6 billion in 2014.
During his reign as head of CFG, Han oversaw the twenty-fold growth of Chinese box office from $160 million to $3.2 billion. He co-produced titles with various Chinese cinematic luminaries, such as Chen Kaige, Peter Chan, Stephen Chow and Johnnie To, and ushered in the era of the Chinese blockbuster, such as The Promise and Red Cliff.
Han personally directed the propaganda epics The Founding of a Republic and Beginning of the Great Revival.
“Han built his name using China Film’s monopoly. He likes ‘big is better’, big budget productions and movies that flattered the Party. But he didn’t have international vision,” said one industry source, who requested anonymity. “China Film is a complex battle ground, with many political struggles. In that sense, Han Sanping was a strong survivor.”
Now Han has handed over his role to former deputies La Peikang and Jiao Hongfen.
The focus has mainly been on La, who lived in France for nine years, and many believe he could do more to open up the market to overseas films.
“La is much more international. Due to the many years he spent in France, he may improve the situation for movie imports from non-Hollywood territories,” said the source.
Recent weeks have seen a flurry of activity. Shanghai Media Group, China’s second biggest media group, signed a multi-year deal with Walt Disney Studios to co-develop Disney-branded movies for China and elsewhere, while Huayi Bros is planning to inject up to $150 million into former Warner Bros’ chief Jeff Robinov‘s Studio 8.
Zhou Yuan, director for film development department of SMG, said he expected the current course of greater cooperation to continue after Han’s departure.
“I don’t think it will affect Hollywood. I think this is a normal personnel change. As far as the cooperation aspect between China Film Group and Hollywood is concerned, CFG is a big organization, and I don’t think Han’s departure will affect the release of Hollywood films,” Zhou said.
Han has officially retired but is expected to remain in the film business as a consultant, heading up a large state-owned film fund.
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Portia de Rossi
James Gordon Meek