Viacom18 Withdraws From India-China Co-Production Starring Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan - H 2015
AP Images

Jackie Chan - H 2015

The India joint venture was part of what was considered the first project announced under a recent co-production treaty between the two Asian giants, but the company says "things didn’t work out as planned."

Viacom18 Motion Pictures has pulled out of what was billed as the first India-China co-production, Kung Fu Yoga, starring Jackie Chan, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The project was first announced last year, just months after India and China signed a co-production treaty, as a partnership between Viacom18 and Chinese companies Taihe Entertainment Corp. and Shinework Media.

Viacom18 is a joint venture between U.S. entertainment giant Viacom and Indian media major Network18 and runs a diversified TV business, which includes MTV India, VH1 India and Comedy Central, among others. Its film unit Viacom18 Motion Pictures has produced titles such as this year's Indian breakout hit Queen and art house fare, including Margarita With a Straw.

Directed by Stanley Tong, Kung Fu Yoga recently began filming in Dubai with the film also starring Bollywood actor Sonu Sood. As revealed in March by Chan, the production is also scheduled to film in India.

“We called it off because we couldn’t agree on the terms,” Viacom18 head of international business Gayatri Gulati told the Journal without giving more details.

When contacted by THR, a Viacom18 spokesperson said: "We had every intent to collaborate with Kung Fu Yoga. However, things didn’t work out as planned. But we are optimistic about more such partnerships in the future."

When Viacom18 first announced the project last November, it said it had signed a letter of intent for the film “which gives us three months to discuss and finalize the details on the main agreement (including the casting of Indian actors).”

“Considering the government's latest step to invite Chinese investments and collaborate with a civilization as old and rich as our own, the alliance stands to offer a unique opportunity to co-create and develop strong cultural experiences and exchange of talent,” Viacom18 Motion Pictures COO Ajit Andhare said when Kung Fu Yoga was first announced.
According to the Journal report citing unnamed sources, Viacom18 pulled out of the project because “it wasn't getting enough say in how it was being made.” The sources also said that Viacom18 exited the film after the Chinese production companies signed the lesser-known Sood who has appeared in supporting roles in Bollywood hits such as last year's Happy New Year, which starred Shah Rukh Khan.

Last year's state visit to India by Chinese Premiere Xi Jinping saw the signing of the co-production treaty, which was followed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's state visit to China in May. Modi's visit saw the announcement of another co-production project, Monk Zuang Xang, a collaboration between Indian entertainment major Eros International and China's state-owned production company Chinese Film Corporation.

Based on a real-life story, Monk Xuang Zang revolves around the Chinese monk who is credited with bringing Buddhist teachings from India to China. Directed by Huo Jianq (A Time To Love), the film will feature Chinese actor Huang Xiaoming as the lead.

Despite China's quota restrictions on foreign theatrical releases, which only allow 34 titles a year, Bollywood films are attempting to break into the world's second-largest film market where Hollywood tentpoles often cross the $100 million mark. Walt Disney India's UTV Motion Pictures released its comedy hit PK, starring Aamir Khan, this May, collecting $20 million. This was the highest-ever take for a Bollywood film in China after last year's Dhoom:3, which collected $7 million. All eyes are now on Indian epic Baahubali, which is set for a major release in China in November across 5,000 screens.

One of the major incentives for an India-China co-production is that it is exempt from the quota restrictions.

But it's not just films, which offer possibilities for partnerships. Recently, the first-ever Chinese version of Big Brother was filmed at a studio facility outside Mumbai, the production base for Bigg Boss, the Indian version of Endemol-Shine's global format that airs on Viacom18's Hindi channel Colors. While its not clear if this project qualified under the co-production treaty, it is an indicator that Indo-China collaborations could perhaps include more TV projects in the future.