Ending a period of intense speculation and rumour-mongering about the direction of Media Asia, one of Hong Kong's most ambitious production and distribution operations, it has emerged that investment group E Sun has become the largest shareholder.
E Sun's move allows a series of reallocations of management and operational responsibilities. These are expected to see E Sun increase its board presence and allow acting superstar and Media Asia shareholder Jackie Chan to become a board member.
Buying a 13% share stake previously held by Lark International Multimedia, operator of Hong Kong's United Artists cinema chain, E Sun increases its holding to 39%. That will mean it overtakes the interests controlled by managing director and co-founder Thomas Chung. Companies controlled by Chung control some 35% of Media Asia's equity, with Chung's personal holding a net 19%.
Despite the lurid and sometimes conflicting rumours which have been swirling in Hong Kong industry circles, the colourful and sometimes controversial Chung remains in place as managing director.
Chung, however, is expected to focus his efforts on a number of personal projects. Key among these is Mythical Film, the company producing Michelle Yeoh's The Touch, and which is 50% owned by Media Asia. Executive director Jerry Liu will assume the main responsibility for funding, while John Chong, general manager and executive director of Media Asia Films, the production arm, will see his role expand.
"Thomas Chung is relinquishing responsibilities only in as much as anyone's time is finite and he is concentrating on the larger scale and more international projects. And secondly, only in that the board members have decided to get involved with aspects that had until now been handled by the management team," said Liu.
Chung told Screen International: "I hope that we have constructed Media Asia in a way that the departure of any one person would not bring the company to a halt. But I am not leaving and there are only two reasons why I would quit as managing director; when I am no longer capable or interested in doing the job, or when it has outgrown me."
E Sun's enlarged share stake is expected to mean the pursuit of new synergies between Media Asia and E Sun, which owns media interests including internet businesses and a 35% stake in one of the two pay-TV licence holders.
E Sun's Peter Lam, who already has a seat on the board, is not expected to take an executive role in Media Asia. But over the coming quarter, room is expected to be made for E Sun to expand its board seats and for Chan to become a board director.
"John Chong's role will increase in that the company is to increase its production activities," said Liu. Media Asia revealed three new films that will go into production this autumn.
An untitled $5m drama directed by Lee Chi I, who was an early choice for director on The Touch, before Peter Pau took the job; a live-action adaptation of a Japanese cartoon series that will be co-produced with Jackie Chan's JC Group. The budget for this is also set at $5m and production is scheduled for October. Third will be a romantic drama for which an established Hong Kong director is in final negotiations.