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Han Sanping: China will Open Market to Hollywood

2012-11-09 10:25:21        Chinese Films

(L to R) Han Sanping, Chairman, China Film Group; Peter Shiao, CEO, Orb Media Group; Lewis Coleman, President, Chief Financial Officer, DreamWorks. [Photo: Asia Society]

A wise old cartoon turtle in Kung Fu Panda advises Po, the portly black and white star of the 2004 DreamWorks Animation blockbuster film, not to fret about honing his fighting skills, but rather to focus on the moment and do his best.

"Yesterday is history, tomorrow's a mystery but today is a gift — that's why it's called the present," says the turtle.

Hollywood studio executives might do well to heed this mantra when trying to gain further traction in China's booming movie market. Hollywood films accounted for the lion's share of the box office so far this year but still face major obstacles as the Chinese Communist Party remains unpredictable in its regulation of the contest for entertainment industry profits. In continuing to limit Hollywood's reach in China, the Party reveals an equally important part of its agenda — balancing the influx of foreign soft power influence over China's citizen-consumers.

It was with that in mind that pan-Pacific movie makers gathered to read the latest tea leaves in Los Angeles on October 30 at an invitation-only dinner to watch a rare public exchange between two of the industry's heaviest hitters, Lewis Coleman, president and chief financial officer of DreamWorks, and Han Sanping, president of the China Film Group, the nation's monopoly film importer, leading distributor and all around industry heavyweight.

The Coleman-Han conversation, moderated by longtime Pacific Rim film industry bridge builder Peter Shiao, who urged the participants "to leave politics at the door," followed a full afternoon of discussions between Hollywood and Chinese industry professionals at the third U.S.-China Film Summit, an event organized by the Asia Society of Southern California.

The event, held on the eve of the American Film Market, a bustling annual gathering of film buyers and sellers in nearby Santa Monica, drew hundreds of guests to an auditorium on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles, to listen to a series of warm-up acts. Industry pros traded insights on the benefits and pitfalls of Sino-U.S. film co-productions, the increasing flow of screen talent between the two film industries, and Chinese investments in the U.S. entertainment business.

The mood of the day was cautiously upbeat. After all, China soon will become the world's largest overseas consumer of tickets to big-budget American-made movies, and Coleman, with DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, is planning to open the doors of the new US$350 million joint venture animation studio Oriental DreamWorks in Shanghai early in 2013.

For his part, Han, who Shiao said had passed up a dinner invitation from Robert DeNiro to engage Coleman, arrived at their public chat to represent not just the Chinese film industry but also, it seemed, to give voice to a message the CCP would like the world to believe — that its media policies are driven as much by business as they are by politics.

Han has produced hundreds of films, including dozens that reflect China's best independent voices reflecting a rapidly changing China, modern classics such as Wang Xiaoshuai's Beijing Bicycle and Zhang Yang's Sunflower. Han also has made many films on an official front, including two of China's most starkly nationalist, and commercially successful, films — the epic The Founding of a Republic, which grossed 430 million yuan (US$68 million) in 2008, and the less lucrative 2010 film The Founding of a Party.

As a China Film Group-produced video hagiography shown to event guests boasted, Han is in "the final stages" of getting the massive studio listed on a domestic stock market.

Han, who was appointed head of CFG in 2007, is credited widely with pushing the studio toward the production of commercial entertainment in cooperation with expert international partners.

Cue James Cameron, as a surprise emcee to introduce Han. The Cameron Pace Group recently announced plans to open up shop in Tianjin, Beijing's nearest port, so as to be able to lease its 3D camera technology and know-how to help the China Film Group make a documentary on the history of China's capital.

"We look forward to supporting the great work that Han Sanping will continue to do and look forward to learning from him," Cameron told the audience via a pre-recorded video. "The state of the Chinese film industry is a tribute to (Han's) leadership and vision."

Source: Asia Society


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