EXCLUSIVE: 'Resident Evil: Afterlife' to Open on 1,000-Plus 3D Screens in China

Director Paul Anderson's film, the fourth in a franchise that grew out of the popular Japanese video game 'Biohazzard,' represents something new for Chinese moviegoers.

Resident Evil: Afterlife will open in China on 1,000-plus 3D screens on Nov. 16, Dan Mintz, CEO of Beijing-based distributor and media and entertainment company DMG told The Hollywood Reporter at the American Film Market on Thursday.

As China's movie market booms – box office is up more than 80% this year – audiences are demanding greater variety, even if it's bloody or supernatural, elements long barred from the big screen by strict film censors. Director Paul Anderson's Evil, the fourth episode in a film franchise that grew out of the popular Japanese video game Biohazzard, represents something new for Chinese moviegoers.

"Just to have zombies is different," said Mintz, a New Yorker who founded DMG 17 years ago with partners Peter Xiao and Wu Bing and has helped grow it into one of China's largest advertising and marketing firms. "This kind of film is not going to become the norm. It's a special case."

Previously, the closest thing to a horror film China had seen was Hong Kong director Gordon Chan's supernatural fantasy Painted Skin, which got by censors arguing it was about spirits not ghosts.

Working with the China Film Group, the only licensed film importer in China, DMG got Evil from Sony subsidiary Screen Gems, Mintz said. DMG also got the state's approval to release the Summit Entertainment and DC Comics C.I.A. action film RED, starring Bruce Willis, he said, adding that DMG plans to release that film in China in early 2011.

Though Evil stars Wentworth Miller, who is hugely popular in China due to widespread online and DVD piracy of his Prison Break TV series, DMG has its work cut out for it. Mintz and DMG's roughly 600 employees in five major Chinese cities will have to overcome the fact that Evil has been pirated already, too, and that it will compete with the latest Harry Potter film, due to release in Chinese theaters Nov. 19.

"Part of our marketing is tracking down the gaming audience and playing up the angle that 'You haven't seen the movie until you've seen it in 3D," said Mintz, who traveled to AFM from his home in Beijing with an official Chinese film delegation.

Evil and Red will be DMG's fourth and fifth releases in China after outings in late 2009 with Twilight and Knowing, both of which were released long after their premieres and didn't do much in sales, Mintz said. Eight months after its U.S. release, Knowing brought in $5 million in China, he said: "For us, now, it's not as much about the box office as it is about showing what we're capable of doing – bringing in films."

China has long limited to 20 a year the number of imported films allowed to share in their own box office gross. Each always has to come through the CFG. Other films, such as Twilight and Knowing get in with CFG's help for a one-time, flat fee.

It was not immediately clear which way DMG is bringing in both Evil and Red. The company also worked with Lionsgate earlier this year to get Killers approved for release in China. That film closed the Shanghai International Film Festival in June and DMG is "waiting for the right window to open it theatrically," Mintz said.

Mintz's work in advertising has seen him bring clients such as Nike and the National Basketball Assn. to broad platforms in China – including thousands of Beijing subway video monitors the company controls. Nowadays, entertainment is where it's at, he said.

"It's going to get tougher as we all try to keep up with the growth in the market," said Mintz, quick to point out that DMG also has invested in films such as the hit urban office comedy Go Lala Go, by female writer-director Xu Jinglei, and the soft-propaganda film The Founding of a Republic, from CFG Chairman-turned film director Han Sanping.

Earlier this month, the China Film Producer's Assn. forecast that China would overtake Japan as the world's second largest gross box office market by 2015. China's box office gross was $1.1 billion from January-September this year.