Shanghai, Media Asia, Zhang launch studio

Partnership groups talent from Shanghai, Beijing, HK

More Shanghai festival news

SHANGHAI -- A potentially powerful three-way moviemaking partnership was unveiled in China on Sunday, linking among the most successful talents in Chinese-language entertainment in order to feed the growing cinematic appetite of a swelling middle-class audience.

Shanghai Media Asia brings together under one banner Ren Zhonglun, president of the Shanghai Film Group Corp; Peter Lam, chairman of the Hong Kong-based Media Asia Group; and Zhang Guoli, a prolific actor, director and producer based in Beijing.

The move is the latest pact drawing veterans of the struggling Hong Kong film industry north to work in the fast-maturing movie markets of urban China -- where five years of boxoffice growth over 25% and a multiplex building boom might continue if more movies of increasing variety keep customers coming back.

"The company born today will someday be a main force in the Chinese film industry, not only in features and television but also in documentaries and art films," Ren, the new company's chairman, told a meeting of about 250 Chinese reporters on the second day of the 12th Shanghai International Film Festival.

"We're trying to create a full-service studio that will make our movies famous not only at home but also overseas," Ren said.

Under Zhang Guoli's creative direction as general manager, Shanghai Media Asia plans to finish its first two films and two TV shows by the end of 2009, including the first commercial action feature by acclaimed director Jia Zhangke.

The jovial and popular Zhang, who is now playing Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in a forthcoming TV show celebrating the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic, said that the new company would, over three years, attract good talent to make a film that wins an international award; a movie that earns more than 100 million yuan ($14.6 million); and a movie that will be deemed a classic.

Feeling the pressure, Jia, whose first Shanghai Media Asia project is called "In the Qing Dynasty," told the audience he was nervous about straying from the art house films that have won him multiple Western film awards.

"I am worried as this is a big change and challenge for me, " said Jia, adding that he would lean on producer Johnnie To and on scriptwriter Han Dong for help.

Shanghai Media Asia, which Ren said also plans to build a 110,000-square-meter production facility, could face stiff competition from another recently-formed multiparty de facto Chinese film studio.

In February, Hong Kong director Peter Chan and producer Huang Jianxin of the China Film Group, joined Beijing-based distributor Polybona International to form a production company in the capital with plans to make 15 films in three years with 500 million yuan.

Shanghai Media Asia did not reveal its war chest Sunday but Ren intimated solid backing from his third of the partnership. He said the 2008 profits of The Shanghai Film Group Corp were 250 million yuan, made off of revenue of 1.6 billion yuan.

The average Chinese film to date has rarely cost more than 20 million yuan, but audiences are getting more demanding after years of exposure to big-budget Hollywood fare and a few showy domestic breakouts. At the high end, John Woo's two recent "Red Cliff" movies, the most expensive Chinese films ever made, had an estimated budget of $80 million. The first installment earned more than $124 million in Asia alone.

For his part, Media Asia's Lam, who will be vice-chairman of the new company, is one of the most successful co-producers and distributors of Chinese films overseas, helping, for instance, to make a name -- if not yet a full-blown market -- outside China for directors such as Feng Xiaogang, who was present at the announcement Sunday.

"We hope to bring more Hong Kong-China co-produced films to the world," Lam said.
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