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WB flexing plex muscles in China

Warners acts on plan to add screens

This article was updated on October 23, 2003.

SYDNEY — Warner Bros. has pacted with Shanghai United Circuit to build and operate two more multiplexes in China.

The eight-screen theater in Nanjing, 200 miles north of Shanghai, is slated to bow in January. The 10-screen Wuhan site, 400 miles west of Shanghai, will open in May.

The deal is subject to regulatory approval, which Warner hopes to secure next month.

WB Intl. Cinemas, headed by prez Millard Ochs, flagged its intention to expand in China at the July 10 gala opening of Paradise Warner Cinema City in Shanghai, a nine-screener in which the studio is partnered with distrib Shanghai Paradise and Hong Kong’s Broadband Investment.

Warner stepped in to the Nanjing and Wuhan ventures after the original developers, the Jiangsu Shengshi Asia Film Co. and CinemaWorks, a Hong Kong consultancy formed by English-born exhib Ian Riches, withdrew. Jiangsu decided not to pursue its initial interest in exhibition. SUC took over from Jiangsu and Riches helped broker a deal with WB, which replaced CinemaWorks.

WB hopes to take majority stakes in the cinemas after the government declared it would raise the 49% cap on foreign investment in exhibition, acknowledging that China’s exhib industry can’t be modernized without coin from international players.

Riches, who was based in Nanjing, is returning to England Oct. 30 but says he intends to return to Asia to scout for other exhib opportunities.

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