China Film Group sets plan for IPO

CEO Han Sanping declines to give details

BEIJING — China Film Group’s recently promoted chairman-CEO, Han Sanping, on Tuesday underlined his determination to launch mainland China’s predominant movie company on the stock market through an initial public offering.

“We are working with institutions toward the listing of China Film Group on a Chinese stock market,” Han said during opening discussions at the four-day Beijing Screenings market. He did not give details of a timetable or of capital the flotation would raise.

The degree of new freedom provided by an IPO is unclear. Under Han, CFG has cherry-picked nearly all the prestigious pictures to be made in the country. New coin would provide further muscle when negotiating with local, Asian regional or Hollywood counterparts.

But it is too early to say whether opening the corporation’s equity capital to outside investors also means a new attitude to foreign involvement in China’s highly regulated communications sector. Only last month Han called on Chinese filmmakers to make more patriotic movies.

Underlining CFG’s ability to attract capital, Han unveiled a slate of 10 major movies in various states of production to be released over the next 18 months. All are produced or co-financed with leading local, Hong Kong or foreign partners.

The state-owned corporation previously began preparations for a listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in late 2004, but plans were indefinitely quashed in August 2005 by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (Sarft). Move was seen as an important tightening of limits on foreign involvement in media and entertainment. Han, however, only recently rose to the top job at CFG, and his plans are unlikely to have been hatched without ministry-level approval.

The slate includes the following:

  • The John Woo-helmed $80 million period actioner “Red Cliff,” now lensing

  • “Crazy Racer,” the sequel to Ning Hao’s breakout car-race comedy, shooting in Xiamen as a co-production with Warner China Film

  • Peter Chan’s period actioner “The Warlords,” with Hong Kong’s Media Asia, now in post

  • “Mei lan fang,” Chen Kaige’s tribute to one of Beijing Opera’s great stars, partly financed by Taiwan’s CMC

  • Stephen Chow’s moralistic comedy “CJ7” (which has gone through a multitude of titles, including “Yangtze 7” and “A Hope”), which Sony Pictures Classics will release in North America

  • “Shinjuku Incident,” starring Jackie Chan, to be helmed by Derek Yee

  • “Waiting,” starring Ziyi Zhang, also to be helmed by Peter Chan.

CFG’s reach within the Chinese industry is total. Company controls the Beijing and China Children’s film studios, operates seven circuits with 400 theaters, is the country’s largest film distributor, has the country’s sole film import license and controls national movie channel CCTV-6.

CFG already is so much bigger than other film industry players in China that its own pronouncements and national interest often appear synonymous. Yet Han, who took the top spot from the retired Yang Buting, said the company will get bigger still. “CFG will play an increasingly large role,” he said.

Since his arrival at the top job, Han has shuffled personnel and aggressively sought for CFG to be a part of nearly all the major films produced in the country.

“We have partnerships with 40-50 companies,” he said. “These include Disney and Warner Bros., the big Hong Kong movie companies and private sector companies in China, too.”

Han said the Chinese industry had come through five years of reform and is “ready to take off soon.” He forecast that the Chinese market would show annual growth of 30% over the next five to eight years. Given that the theatrical market enjoyed total grosses of some $350 million last year, B.O. will reach $1.3 billion by the end of 2011 if growth is as Han predicts.

Beijing Screenings, which CFG bankrolls at a reported cost of 2 million yuan ($285,000), has moved up a notch this year. Event, which showcases 59 movies, has taken over the classy Broadway Star City multiplex, and foreign buyers are lodged in an adjacent luxury hotel.

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