Wang Zhonglei, whose English name is James, formed Huayi Brothers alongside brother Wang Zhongjun. The company, one of China’s most successful private shingles, is riding high, most recently with the success of 3D sequel “Painted Skin: The Resurrection,” which became the highest-grossing Chinese film of all time over the summer, bringing in nearly $108 million. Wang Zhonglei, who is president of Huayi, sat down in a Beijing hotel with Clifford Coonan to discuss the metamorphosis of the Chinese biz over the past year due to the growing number of foreign films now allowed onto the mainland, as well as the increased focus of attention on Hollywood films, despite government rumblings about some being “not Chinese enough.”
Clifford Coonan: There has been a lot of discussion about co-productions between Hollywood and China. How does this relate to your strategy?
Wang Zhonglei: We are different from other Chinese companies. Although we continue international development, and are active in the international market, with things like (North American distrib) China Lion, we are more focused on the domestic market. We would like to do more original Chinese movies suited to Chinese tastes. There are many Chinese companies looking to co-produce American movies or share in their release. This is not what we’re looking for.
CC: How much does government influence Huayi Brothers’ activities?
WZ: We don’t work under the same conditions as U.S. movies. We can import “Twilight,” but we are not allowed to make a film about (vampires). We can import horror movies, but we can’t make them ourselves. So (our movies) can’t be compared with U.S. movies. Also, there are bureaucratic limits. So the policy for making movies (is not equal). There is a limit on creativity, but we try our best to do new things. In past years, we have focused on originals, not remakes.
CC: How has the increase in the number of Hollywood films under the quota system (from 20 to 34) affected Chinese filmmakers?
WZ: Definitely this has been a shock to the market, and we can see how the January-to-June box office figures for domestic movies have been hit by the increased quotas.
The most efficient way to beat the problem is to make better movies.
We ask filmmakers to relate better to the domestic audience. The government is trying to balance the market.
Perhaps it would be best even to increase the quota. Right now, we import blockbusters, so audiences believe American movies are all fantastic. But if we imported more, it would show there are different kinds of American movies.
CC: What sectors are you focusing on for future productions, and what are your ambitions?
WZ: Our target is to gross $500 million in annual box office (sales revenue amounted to $140 million in 2011). We plan to make more movies for young people. Comedy, action, fiction, using young actors like Angelababy, to play in big movies and better adapt to the market. “Tai Chi 0” is being released at the end of the month with a young wushu master, Yuan Xiaochao, who we hope will be a star for a new generation.
Wang (James) Zhonglei: At a glance
• With older brother Zhongjun, founds the first entertainment company to list on the Chinese stock exchange, Huayi Brothers Media Corp., in 1994.
• In 2009, the company embarks on a program of diversification into theme parks, tourism, real estate and other related businesses that now account for more than 70% of total revenue.
• “Aftershock” (2010), directed by the shingle’s main helmer, Fenx Xiaogang, grosses $100 million-plus worldwide.
• Huayi Brothers’ sales revenue in 2011 is $140 million. Among the stars on the company payroll are Chen Daoming and Li Bingbing.