By Pei Li and Joseph Campbell
QINGDAO, China (Reuters) – Wang Jianlin, the billionaire boss of China’s Dalian Wanda Group, said on Saturday he will turn the northern port city of Qingdao into a global film production hub as he launched a sprawling studio complex in a ceremony attended by hundreds.
Covering an area equivalent to more than 200 football pitches, the 400-acre Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis boasts the world’s biggest movie studio and has been touted as China’s answer to Hollywood.
The $8 billion project, built partly on an artificial island, also includes hotels, a theme park and a yacht club.
Wang, whose group controls U.S. cinema chain AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc and U.S. studio Legendary Entertainment, promised generous subsidies for film makers but indicated a focus on China’s domestic film market.
“We will boost the Chinese movie industry development,” Wang said at the project’s opening ceremony.
“We will also turn Qingdao into a global hub for film,” he said, making no reference to Hollywood in his brief speech.
Hundreds of Chinese film industry representatives attended, as well as Hollywood executives and Chinese government officials that included the vice governor of Shandong province.
The launch came as the mutual courtship between China and Hollywood looks less rosy.
A handful of U.S.-China film ventures have fallen apart due to cultural clashes. Financing deals – including Wanda’s $1 billion wooing of Hollywood studio Dick Clark Productions Inc – have also collapsed. Hollywood’s share of the Chinese market has lost ground to a surge of popular and sometimes patriotic-minded Chinese films.
So far, no major American movie has been produced at Oriental, which partially opened in 2016, except Legendary Entertainment’s “Pacific Rim: Uprising” and “Great Wall”.
Wanda said previously it aimed to host at least five to six Hollywood projects in its first year of full operation in 2018.
Oriental Movie Metropolis is looking to appeal to domestic demand, and is in no rush to attract Hollywood A-listers, President Sun Hengqin told Reuters in an interview, in contrast to the company’s previous ambition to get major Hollywood producers to sign up.
All the 30 completed sound stages have been booked to make domestic movies, including a 3 billion yuan ($474 million) fantasy movie based on a Chinese classic novel, Sun said.
Sun added that production companies will not get subsidies unless they receive the green light from Chinese regulators, potentially a hurdle for foreign movie makers. China is known for its heavy-handedness in the entertainment industry and censors are tough.
“We are not making any commitment yet,” David Kornblum, vice president of international sales and marketing for the Asia-Pacific at Walt Disney Studios, told Reuters on the sidelines of Saturday’s launch.
China’s box office revenue is still swelling at double-digit rates after years of breakneck growth and, with Hollywood know-how and bigger budgets, Chinese movies are gaining momentum as they find ways to play on domestic themes and improve production quality.
(Reporting by Li Pei and Joseph Campbell; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Paul Tait)