Singapore sees land of opportunity

Despite red tape, China increasingly eyed as production partner

SINGAPORE -- Singapore film authorities are positioning the country's fledgling film industry to play a much greater role in the mainland Chinese film market.

The strategy, unveiled this month at the Hong Kong Filmart, coincides with the boxoffice success of MediaCorp. Raintree Pictures' "Protege" across China, as well as with the announcement this month of two feature film co-productions between Singapore, China and Hong Kong.

"The China film market is quite ready to open up," says Man Shu Sum, the Media Development Authority's broadcast and film director and the Singapore Film Commission's director. Man headed up the MDA's first -- and largest -- official delegation to the Hong Kong Filmart since 2003.

"The way we look at it, the window is getting smaller," Man says. "We can act as a bridge. Our government is on good terms with China. Our ability to operate and communicate cross-culturally is an advantage. But we need to move fast and capitalize on the opportunities now," he adds.

The MDA says China's figures are encouraging, with last year's boxoffice topping 2.6 billion yuan ($336 million) with 330 locally made feature films, up from 70 in 2005.

Daniel Yun, chief executive of MediaCorp. Raintree Pictures, expects his latest film, the $5 million-budgeted gangster title "Protege," to do a record RMB70 million ($9 million) at China's boxoffice. "Protege" stars Hong Kong's Andy Lau and Chinese-American Daniel Wu.

"The lion's share of the film's revenue will come from China," Yun says. The film was produced with the mainland Chinese market in mind as part of Raintree's regional and international expansion efforts.

Hong Kong films are not considered foreign productions and are not subject to China's movie quotas. Of China's top 10 boxoffice hits last year, half were produced by Hong Kong and Chinese companies, the MDA said.

MediaCorp. Raintree Pictures' two new films with Hong Kong and China partners are "I Not Stupid -- China" with Hong Kong's Emperor Motion Pictures, and "Taller Than Yao Ming," in development with Greater China Media & Entertainment. Filming is scheduled to begin by the third quarter of this year for an early 2008 release.

"I Not Stupid -- China," by Singapore director Jack Neo, will focus on the pressures faced by modern Chinese children. The film will be shot on location in China.

"Taller Than Yao Ming" is about two Singapore children who dream of traveling to the 2008 Beijing Olympics to play basketball with NBA superstar Yao Ming.

Other Singapore producers are less willing to take on China and its complicated regulations and approval systems.

InnoForm Media prefers to work through Hong Kong's Fortune Star for mainland projects, Innoform managing director Lim Teck says.

InnoForm's 2007 movie slate includes the $800,000 Neo film "Just Follow Law," the highest-grossing movie in Singapore this year with boxoffice of S$2.65 million ($1.7 million).

Lim isn't holding out for China distribution. "It's very hard for us to imagine the China market," he says, adding, "We think of it as a bonus because there are so many regulations. Southeast Asia is more accessible."

That doesn't apply to every movie on InnoForm's slate. Lim is more optimistic about a China run for the $1 million horror-thriller "Rule Number One," a co-production with Fortune Star, Singapore's MDA and Kelvin Tong's Boku Films. The approvals process is under way.

Yun has none of Lim's reservations. "The time has come for us to work very closely with China," he says. "We hope we can work with China to evolve an appealing slate for the world market."