Leading Chinese producer Peter Ho-sun Chan tells Liz Shackleton why he is trying to put together a slate of China-centric projects.
One of the driving forces behind the pan-Asian co-production movement, Hong Kong film-maker Peter Ho-sun Chan has shifted his focus to mainland China for his latest venture, Cinema Popular.
“China’s box office is going up, despite the downturn, but foreign sales are not going up. So the key to Chinese films is to become more China-centric, because for the first time we can finance and produce films for just one audience. ”
Peter Ho-sun Chan, leading Chinese producer
Launched in February, the Beijing-based company is a 50:50 joint venture between production outfit We Pictures, jointly owned by Chan and mainland film-maker Huang Jianxin, and Bona Entertainment, a subsidiary of the Bona International Film Group (Bifg). It aims to invest $73m in 15 films over three years, beginning with star-laden action thriller Bodyguards And Assassins.
Chan says he aims to redress the imbalance in the Chinese-language film industry — where a huge proportion of films are now set up as co-productions between Hong Kong and mainland China.
Five years ago, when China’s cinema business was still in its infancy, mainland companies would contribute around 30% of a co-production’s budget and recoup 30% of the box office. But due to an explosion in multiplex building, mainland box office now accounts for about 70% of total revenues. “Therefore we should be raising a bigger proportion of the budget from mainland China,” explains Chan.
Working with Bifg, which is China’s biggest distributor of Hong Kong movies, Chan’s business model is to recoup from Chinese-speaking territories, which he believes is possible for a film made for around $15m. His strategy breaks with the traditional model of $40m blockbusters, including Chan’s own 2007 epic The Warlords, which have to secure international sales.
“China’s box office is going up, despite the downturn, but foreign sales are not going up,” observes Chan. “So the key to Chinese films is to become more China-centric, because for the first time we can finance and produce films for just one audience. That doesn’t mean we don’t do foreign sales — the films will still sell overseas if they’re good enough.”
Chan helped pioneer pan-Asian co-productions back in 2002, through Hong Kong-based Applause Pictures, and with films such as The Eye series. His most recent project as director, The Warlords, was critically acclaimed but not a typical Hong Kong action film and did not secure a sale to the US.
North American distribution is less crucial for Cinema Popular’s debut, Teddy Chen’s $23m Bodyguards And Assassins, about a failed assassination attempt on Chinese nationalist leader Sun Yat-sen. However, We Pictures’ sales arm, We Distribution, will still be selling the film in Cannes.
Now in production, Bodyguards was scripted by The Warlords’ writing team. “There’s a lack of writers in China, so we brainstorm ideas in Hong Kong and take them to the mainland to be developed — it’s a very collaborative process,” says Chan.