Wanda Legendary Partnership China and Hollywood
Edward Tuckwell for Variety

James Wang (aka Wang Zhonglei), co-chief of China’s Huayi Brothers Media, poured cold water on the notion that the Communist Party is behind Chinese companies’ recent incursions into Hollywood.

“This is a joke,” said Wang on Wednesday in Los Angeles. “We are trying to develop our own markets.” He was speaking at the UCFTI Convention on Chinese-U.S. movie industry relations at L.A. Live, taking place the same week as the American Film Market in Santa Monica.

Some members of the U.S. Congress have suggested that regulators in America examine the recent Chinese investments. But Wang made careful distinction between the recent succession of Chinese investments and the string of Japanese corporate maneuvers in the 1990s and early 21st century, which provoked similar fears.

“In China, capital is seeking out content. Here (U.S.) companies are currently seeking capital,” said Wang. And finance is something that Chinese firms have provided in abundance in the past two years.

Chinese investments in Hollywood have included Fosun International’s equity investment in Jeff Robinov’s Studio 8, through co-financing deals of Perfect World and Bona Film Group (into Universal’s current production lineup, and 20th Century Fox’s current slate) to strategic co-operation deals between Alibaba and Amblin Partners and Wanda’s acquisition of Legendary Entertainment and the AMC cinema chain. Huayi is an equity investor and co-financing partner in mini-studio STX.

“(In its U.S. outreach) Huayi wants to focus on content and production companies,” said Wang. And he noted that is not a new approach.

Huayi was one of the first Chinese movie enterprises to be involved with a Hollywood studio. The company made several films with Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia, a late 20th century China production initiative that with hindsight now looks to have been ahead of its time.

Pressed to explain how Chinese companies obtain government permission to export capital and make overseas investments, Wang was damning. “I didn’t realize that Washington D.C. was also in the business of telling stories,” he said.

“There is no such approval process,” Wang said. “I need approval from my board of directors, not the (Chinese) government.”

Wang said that the Chinese film industry has much to learn from Hollywood, especially in talent and production, and suggested that China may actually be suffering a brain drain. “(China is) now making 700 movies a year, but the number of quality movies has not increased proportionately. If you have good ideas and skills please come to China now. There is a mismatch between talent and production and this way we have a lot of bad movies,” Wang said. “There are lots of Chinese going to study film in the U.S., but not all of them are coming back.

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