China’s Wanda hints at AMC merger ‘surprise’

Move would make China a big distrib player

BEIJING – Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin said the Chinese exhib chain is planning a merger “that will surprise the world,” almost certainly referring to active talks to buy the U.S.’ second largest theater chain AMC Entertainment.

“In the coming year, Wanda will be mostly focusing on international operations, and will have a merger that will surprise the world,” Wang said in a speech at Tsinghua University. His remarks were carried on local media.

Real estate developer Wanda has been talking to AMC for several years, but negotiations are said to have intensified since the real estate boom in China forced a stark rise in the number of theaters in China and swelled Wanda’s cash war-chest for acquisitions.

The statement by the group prexy is a clear statement of intent, although when contacted for official comment, Chen Hongwei, GM of enterprise development at Wanda, only said: “I don’t know.”

The move would make China a major player in the domestic U.S.

entertainment landscape through AMC’s 5,000-plus screens at a time when the two nations are looking to increase cooperation. China recently raised its cap on foreign films allowed in the country each year and has pacts in place with studios from DreamWorks to Walt Disney.

Imax inked a joint revenue-sharing agreeing with Wanda as it expands the large-screen format in China.

The AMC-Wanda deal would sit very well with Hollywood’s stated aim of boosting relations with China, despite regulatory hurdles and an SEC probe into some studios dealings with government officials in China.

Wanda has been in the news in China for the wrong reasons lately. The government is trying to ease the real estate market amid bubble fears, while Wang has been linked to Bo Xilai, the purged former Communist Party chief of Chongqing who served as mayor in Dalian, where Wanda is based. Bo’s wife has been arrested in connection with the murder of a British businessman.

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