Chinese media conglomerate China Star is poised to invest $150m a year in Asian film production as it pushes its film-making and broadcasting efforts into a new dimension. The company is also in the market as a buyer and is putting together a massive library.
China Star has launched a new umbrella, Hundred Years Productions, to make some thirty pictures a year in Hong Kong and other South-East Asian countries. Its slate kicks off with pictures from Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam and Johnny To.
"We need lots of content," said Ann Hung, China Star's distribution department general manager. "China Star channel is already up and running in China. We are going to expand it into Hong Kong and Taiwan and, by next year, Singapore and Malaysia. This puts a premium on content and control."
Hundred Years expects to make 10-12 pictures a year in the $8m-$10m range, and a further 20 in the $1m-$4m bracket. Financing will come from a combination of internal resources and equity. Although the company is publicly quoted on the Hong Kong stock market and believes it has the necessary resources, Hung said that it has been approached by Japanese, Korean and German companies seeking to board its productions.
While China Star's broadcast ambitions are driving the production bonanza, Hung is adamant that the "A-Plus" and "A titles" are destined for theatrical careers. Theatrical operations are expected to make up 35% of China Star's income, TV 40% and home entertainment and overseas sales the remaining 25%. "Video releases on V-CD and DVD are still a very important component of our business."
Tsui Hark is now in advanced pre-production on the $8m Black Mask II, a fantasy about an insane killer which shoots next month, and is readying $8m underworld adventure The Legend Of Zu.
Ringo Lam is to direct three pictures a year for Hundred Years and will produce a number of other pictures by lesser known directors. Lam will be overseeing an ambitious animation package Old Master Q, a comic book property that will be adapted into feature and TV products. Q will also be China Star's most ambitious foray into merchandising.
Hung confirmed that China Star is also assembling a 1,000 title library of films sourced from Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. "These are negative pick-ups, we are taking all rights," said Hung.