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Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin has dispatched one of his top film executives to Los Angeles this week to reassure his Dalian Wanda Group conglomerate’s many Hollywood partners that he remains committed to the entertainment business.
Zeng Maojun, president of Wanda Film Holding Co., spoke Tuesday at a 90-minute closed-door meeting held at the AMC Century City 15 cinema, which Wanda owns. According to a source with knowledge of the plans, the purpose of the event was to allay concerns among Hollywood heavyweights that Wanda might be retreating from its ambitions in the U.S. film sector because of recent Chinese government scrutiny of its outbound investment activity.
It’s understood that Zeng, who leads the Wanda division responsible for AMC Entertainment, Legendary Entertainment and Wanda Pictures (the conglomerate’s Chinese production arm), has been holding additional meetings around Hollywood before and after the address. The exec also is underlining the centrality of his home market to the global industry’s future growth. The exec’s speech Tuesday was titled, “Chinese Market Update: Driving Global Box Office Growth,” according to Bloomberg, which got a copy of an invite. While the North American box office is coming off one of its worst summers in years, China’s theatrical film market surged 24 percent from June to August.
The U.S. industry has good reason to wonder where Wang’s Hollywood strategy currently stands. After snapping up trophy assets at a blistering clip, Wanda and other Chinese conglomerates, including Fosun International and HNA Group, recently have come under heavy scrutiny in Beijing over their high debtloads and pricey dealmaking — a pattern government authorities have sought to crack down on because of perceived systemic risks to the Chinese financial sector. Regulators are understood to have instructed China’s state banks to suspend all new lending to the conglomerates’ offshore acquisitions, such as Wanda-owned Legendary Entertainment and AMC Entertainment.
In a strategic turnabout, Wang, who had previously boasted of wanting to buy a major Hollywood studio, responded to the government’s call in July by saying that Wanda’s future investment plans would focus on domestic Chinese assets. Those statements were matched by a surprise retreat from China’s domestic theme park sector, with Wang announcing a hurried deal to offload the bulk of Wanda’s destination entertainment and hotel holdings to two other local property developers for $9.5 billion.
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