Warner Bros Pictures hasannounced the first ever Sino-foreign joint venture film company Warner ChinaFilm HG Corporation in partnership with China Film Group and Hengdian Group.The company will produce Chinese-language films, TV films and animated product.

The announcement was madetoday (Wednesday) in Beijing by Yang Buting, chairman of China Film Group, XuYongan, chairman of Hengdian Group, and Barry Meyer, chairman and chiefexecutive officer of Warner Bros.

Warner China Film is thefirst venture approved under a new regulation issued by China's StateAdministration Of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) allowing the establishmentof Sino-foreign joint venture film production and distribution companies.

Initial projects underconsideration include feature films proposed by directors Feng Xiaogang, JiangWen and He Ping; a Chinese-language animated co-production; and a series oftelefilms with Zhang Guoli as executive producer. Warner China Film plansto announce its first feature by year-end and to commence production in early2005.

The announcement is anextraordinary breakthrough for a Hollywood studio working in tandem withChina's chief state-run film conglomerate China Film and the country's largestprivately owned film and TV enterprise Hengdian.

Only yesterday Warner BrosInternational Cinemas announced that it was teaming with Guangzhou Jin Yi Film& Television Investment Co to build a new seven-screen multiplex inBeijing. That's in addition to other confirmed sites in Shangying (Beijing), Shanghai, Tianjinand Nanning.

The filmsproduced by Warner China will be budgeted in the $1.5m to $1.6m range with eachTV film budgeted in the $0.2m to $0.3m range.

Yang will serve as theinitial chairman of the board of Warner China Film; Richard Fox, executive vicepresident, international, Warner Bros. will serve as vice chairman. WarnerChina Film will be based in Beijing and Han Sanping, currently general managerof the China Film Group, will serve as Warner China Film's initial generalmanager.

"Warner China Film marks anew milestone for the Chinese film industry and demonstrates that it is quicklyopening to foreign investment, and ready to take its rightful place in theglobal entertainment business," said Yang in a statement. "Thispartnership represents a true 'dream team' - three companies that are eachleaders in their respective fields that bring vast, mutually complementarystrengths and resources to the table."

"We at the Hengdian Grouphave long believed that China's filmed entertainment sector is poised for spectaculargrowth," added Xu. "Warner China Film is the perfect complement to our growingfilm and television production, distribution and exhibition businesses."

"We are deeply honored thatthe China Film Group and Hengdian Group have agreed to partner with us in thispioneering venture," said Meyer. "The formation of Warner China Film, as wellas our ongoing investment in multiplex cinemas in China and a planned homevideo marketing and distribution joint venture, demonstrate our firm commitmentto the Chinese film industry and our confidence in the marketplace. It isthrough ventures such as these that the Chinese film industry will reach itsfull potential."

"Through our other localproduction ventures, we have seen that audiences respond strongly to films thatreflect their own culture and life experience," said Alan Horn, President &Chief Operating Officer, Warner Bros., who has oversight of all of WarnerBros' film operations. "Warner China Film will work with the country'soutstanding filmmakers to create world-class films, telefilms and animation foraudiences both in China and around the globe."

To date, Warner Bros hasproduced one Chinese-language film - Johnny To's Turn Left, Turn Right in 2003 - and it has been ahead of the other studiosin its aggressive multiplex-building programme in partnership with localcompanies.

China Film Group is the keyto the Chinese industry. For over a decade its subsidiary China Film Import& Export Corporation has been the sole government-authorised importer of foreignfilms - including all Hollywood movies - and another subsidiary China FilmCo-production Corporation oversees and manages all Sino-foreign co-productions.

Hengdian has investments inelectric and electronics, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, trade and logistics,education and consumer health, hi-tech agriculture and film and entertainment.In 2002, it was the third highest revenu-generating company in China withrevenues of nearly $1bn.