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Welcome Home, Kung Fu Panda

2012-02-24 08:53:05        xinhua

A still photo of "Kung Fu Panda 2" [Photo: douban.com]

Po, the bumbling yet chivalrous black-and-white hero in the Hollywood animated blockbuster Kung Fu Panda, now is poised for his journey home.

The movie's producer, the U.S.-based DreamWorks Animation (DWA), will join hands with a consortium of Chinese companies to form a joint venture, named Oriental DreamWorks (ODW), in Shanghai, according to an announcement made by DWA in Los Angeles Friday evening local time and another statement from one of its Chinese partners issued Saturday.

A second sequel that will continue Po's legend, Kung Fu Panda 3, has been given priority on the agenda of ODW, which is set to begin operations later this year, according to Li Huaiyu, chief investment officer of China Media Capital (CMC), a shareholder of the joint venture.

Li made the remarks in an exclusive interview with Xinhua conducted several days ahead of the announcement of the tie-up.

The joint venture will be between DWA and three state-owned Shanghai-based groups -- CMC, Shanghai Media Group (SMG) and Shanghai Alliance Investment Limited (SAIL), with animation film production as its main business, according to a statement issued by CMC.

CMC, founded in 2009, is China's first media-sector-focused fund dedicated to media and entertainment investment at home and abroad, while SMG is the second largest conglomerate in the country.

SAIL, founded in 1994, is an investment arm of the Shanghai municipal government.

Kung Fu Panda and Kung Fu Panda 2, which were respectively screened in 2008 and 2011, both harvested a box office of over 100 million yuan (15.9 million U.S. dollars) in the Chinese market, with ticket sales of the latter standing at 470 million yuan.

With a preliminary investment totaling 330 million U.S. dollars, the Chinese side will hold 55 percent of ODW's shares and DWA will take up the remaining 45 percent, said the CMC statement.

"It's likely for ODW to participate in the distribution of Kung Fu Panda 3, and then develop a batch of classic animated figures with Chinese traditional features," said Li, who is familiar with the future work plan of ODW.

Li said ODW would possibly make an animation movie based on a classic Chinese children's book, called Ma Liang and His Magic Brush, which tells a folklore story of a parentless boy who uses a magic pen that turns what it draws into reality, to help poor villagers and punish a fatuous emperor.

"The plot is extremely imaginative, and has great potential to be made into a beautiful film," he said.

For decades, the Chinese film industry, including animation, has been struggling to keep up with its foreign counterparts, and the lack of an idea-generating system has impeded progress, said Wang Lei, chief executive officer of Mr. Cartoon Picture, an animation maker based in Shanghai.

ODW is likely to become the West Point for China's animation talents and will exert a "structural" impact on the industry's development, Wang said.

A key problem bothering Chinese animation professionals is how to present a Chinese story to the world, he said. "The joint venture can definitely bring DWA's expertise on telling a story, and its strong brand effect can also help Chinese stories to be better heard by the world."

From his perspective, DWA's tapping into the Chinese market is not about building a processing center for animation products, but aims to introduce its process to produce ideas into the country.

"The move may lead to competition, but that's necessary," he added.

For DWA, the Chinese movie market, one of the most fast-growing ones in the world, remains pretty much untouched.

"We are always looking for new and expanded opportunities for our fans and for families......We very much look forward to extending our entertainment offering in Asia," said DWA president Lew Coleman when visiting Shanghai in the second half of last year.

The vast market in China has replaced low-cost labor as a major attraction for the U.S. culture industry, Wang said.

In 2011, China's box office exceeded 13 billion yuan, with the number of screens in urban cinemas surging from 6,200 to 9,000 in a single year.

However, what lies ahead DWA is not only opportunities, but also challenges, as it will need to consider how to integrate advanced animation technologies with China's traditional cartoon styles.

Experience can be shared by Technicolor, an American movie-making company that helped its Chinese partner produce the three-dimensional (3D) animation of "Uproar in Heaven," a landmark work.

"The perspectives, the camera position, the stylistic approach are extremely unique in Chinese characters. That created for us a whole series of interesting challenges. We have to devise an entirely new method to make the 3D come to life but also in a way that is respectful of the traditional animation style," said Pierre Routhier, animation effects director of Technicolor.

However, ODW plans to become more than just an animation production giant.

The company will primarily focus on making animation works, but will also expand to other fields, such as research and development for film and television technologies, industrial parks for animation production, derivative products development, shows and entertainments and theme parks, according to Li Huaiyu.

The strategy is noticeably different from that of DWA's domestic rival in the animation field, Disney, which has prioritized providing theme park services in China.

In April last year, Disney began the construction of the Shanghai Disney Resort in partnership with a local company.

The increasing substantial bilateral investment, especially in culture and technology sector, indicate that economic and trade relations between China and the U.S. are healthy, said Huang Renwei, deputy director of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

"The relations are no longer just about China's exports of commodities to the U.S., and U.S. sales of Boeing airplanes to China," Huang said, adding that the shift suggested the connection between the two economies was tightening.

The success of Kung Fu Panda shows there is room for two countries' cultures to further understand each other and better integrate, Huang said.

"We can look forward to more animated figures with characteristics from both cultures to be created by ODW," he said.

As the second largest economy in the world, China has been working to improve its cultural soft power.

The sixth plenary session of the 17th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China that convened in October last year called for deepening reforms in the culture sector, accelerating its development and making it a pillar industry in the country's economy.

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