Pic to make TV premiere in late 2001 or early 2002

NEW YORK — Starz Encore has nabbed exclusive pay TV rights to Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” from Sony Pictures Classics.

The film — buzzed about as a possible Oscar contender — will make its world TV premiere on Starz in late 2001 or early 2002, with subsequent plays on other Starz Encore channels.

If Sony’s Screen Gems division had released “Crouching Tiger,” the movie would’ve automatically ended up on HBO, which has an output deal with Screen Gems.

But Sony Pictures Classics’ output deal with Showtime expired a year ago, so SPC was able to put “Crouching Tiger” up for bids in the pay TV window. One source says Starz engineered the most aggressive bid because its president, John Sie, a Chinese American, has made no bones about being a big fan of the movie.

This source compares Sie’s commitment to “Crouching Tiger” with his unusual deal two years ago allowing the Walt Disney Co. to cancel its output arrangement with Starz for Dimension Pictures’ releases so Disney could resell the output to Showtime for higher license fees. Sie agreed to the deal, but only when Disney permitted him to extract any Dimension titles featuring Jackie Chan from the Showtime contract. The Chan movies have remained with Starz.

Not surprisingly, Starz Encore has also acquired “Tokyo Raiders,” China’s highest-grossing film in 2000, from Sony Pictures Entertainment. The film, starring Hong Kong superstar Tony Leung and not released in the U.S., will make its U.S. television premiere on the ActionSM channel in February.

Last month, Fox and FX acquired a shared network window to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” beginning in the fall of 2003. The Fox network will get first play of the film, after which it will go to FX, and then seesaw between the two networks throughout the life of the deal.

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