Venice: China's Road Pictures Boards Lou Ye's 'Saturday Fiction' (Exclusive)

Saturday Fiction still 1 - Venice Film Festival - H 2019
Courtesy of Ying Films

The company, which released the Lebanese art house film 'Capernaum' to $53 million in China, has also acquired rights to the Japanese anime film 'Hello World,' the French adventure comedy 'The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir' and the acclaimed Hungarian animation 'Ruben Brandt, Collector.'

Rising Chinese specialty distributor and production outfit Road Pictures has unveiled a slew of recent deals and ambitions at the start of the Venice International Film Festival, where it is expected to be a busy buyer.

Most relevant to Venice, the company has boarded Chinese auteur Lou Ye's black-and-white period thriller Saturday Fiction as the film's official marketing partner in China. The pic, which stars Gong Li, is competing for the Golden Lion in Venice.

Road Pictures also revealed that it has acquired China distribution rights to two high-profile animated features: Japanese cult director Tomohiko It?'s latest anime Hello World and Romanian filmmaker Milorad Krstic's acclaimed Ruben Brandt, Collector.

Hello World, a time-travel story set in Kyoto in the year 2027, will be released Sept. 13 by Toho in its home market of Japan. Meanwhile, Ruben Brandt, Collector, an offbeat adult thriller told with an innovative animated style, received a limited release in North America from Sony Pictures Classics in February.

Both titles will seek to capitalize on the Chinese audience's growing interest in moody, more adult-oriented animations, as demonstrated by the $83 million earned by Makoto Shinkai's Your Name. in 2017 and local Chinese animation Ne Zha's astonishing $650 million performance.

On the live-action front, Road Pictures also announced that it is preparing to release the English-language French adventure comedy The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir sometime later this year. Directed by Ken Scott and starring Indian actor Dhanush and Bérénice Bejo, the film underperformed in France and North America upon its release in 2018, but Road Pictures believes it could become one of China's sleeper box office breakthroughs.

Headed by CEO Cai Gongming, Road Pictures has been one of China's most successful acquirers and distributors of prestige cinema since at least the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, when it bought the exclusive China rights to Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters, Nadine Labaki’s Jury Prize winner Capernaum and Pawel Pawlikowski’s acclaimed black-and-white romance Cold War, all of which went on to be nominated for the best international feature film Oscar. 

Perhaps more impressive, the company managed to market and release both of the Cannes winners to sizable theatrical success. Shoplifters opened in China in July 2018, earning $14.1 million (compared with $3.3 million in North America), while Capernaum debuted April 29 and soared to more than $50 million ($1.6 million in North America).

The Beijing-based company continued its buying streak in Cannes this year, taking all China rights to Terrence Malick's WWII drama A Hidden Life, Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar's Pain and Glory, Marco Bellocchio's mafia biopic The Traitor and French Palme d’Or winner Claude Lelouch's romance The Best Years of a Life. Release plans for the features are in the works.

Road Pictures is expected to be a busy buyer at both Venice and the Toronto International Film Festival.