Magazine article Variety

A Global Leap FORWARD

Magazine article Variety

A Global Leap FORWARD

Article excerpt

Seeing Gong Li on the Croisette for Zhang Yimou's "Coming Home" was a reminder of the last time she trod the carpet at Cannes for a Zhang film - in 1995 for "Shanghai Triad." And while that wasn't so long ago, it seems like eons considering the great leap forward made by the Chinese film industry ever since.

"Shanghai Triad" was an early French-Chinese co-production, but it was an exception. This year, Cannes has been full of signs that such cooperation is becoming more normal, and that the Chinese film industry is on its way to becoming a more global citizen.

The interesting mix of colleagues with Gong on the red carpet at the May 20 "Coming Home" screening embodied the nation's new approach to the international film biz: producer Bill Kong ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), director Zhang and actor Chen Daoming ("Hero"), all Cannes regulars; and Croisette newbies Jerry Ye of Wanda Media (backed by China's richest businessman, Wang Jianlin), which made its international mark by buying the AMC theater chain; and Zhang Zhao, the influential content production and distribution head of new-media enterprise LeVision/LeTV, which was a financier on "Expendables 2."

The Chinese presence on the Croisette reached record levels - some 400 executives registered with the Cannes market, and at times it felt like there was a similar number of Chinese media types in attendance. But anyone expecting a tsunami of Chinese rights-buying was disappointed.

"The Chinese buyers have come a long way in a very short time," said Stuart Ford, head of sales powerhouse IM Global. "They are much more realistic about what can be done, much more understanding of their role in the market."

That means that while in previous years lots of deals were announced, only to be eventually cancelled for unstated reasons (often pegged to censorship issues), fewer pacts were disclosed at this year's Cannes. Instead, the buzz was about China being part of a two-way East-West financing and production continuum.

For instance, Ford's IM Global will represent the massive H-Plan slate of Chinese-language movies being put together by Chinese private-sector major Huayi Brothers Media, while Huayi is poised to pour upwards of $120 million into Jeff Robinov's Studio 8 shingle.

"Chinese companies increasingly understand that if they are to project Chinese films onto a global stage, they need to be executed at a higher level," said Ford, who added that IM Global was in a good position to make the deal with Huayi Brothers, considering it has a pair of Jackie Chan movies on its sales slate in the near future. …

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