China’s Indie Icon Jia Zhangke Launches Commercial Venture Fabula (EXCLUSIVE)

In an opportunistic swerve from his indie film roots, Chinese film maker Jia Zhangke is going to start making commercial movies.

With a base in Shanghai, he has established Fabula Entertainment (the Chinese name translates as “warm currents”) and raised money for a slate of movies that he will produce.

China Merchants Bank and online giant Tencent, have provided some $4.5 million (RMB30 million) in return for a 10% stake. That gives Fabula an implied value of $45 million (RMB300 million.)

Fabula will operate across two sectors: production of commercial movies and vocational training for the film industry. “We chose these two areas because, frankly, too many Chinese movies are s**t, and we’d like to show a way forward that is based on quality,” Jia told Variety. “And training has become increasingly important now that China’s film production has risen from about 100 titles per year only a few years ago, to (close to) 1,000 per year now.”

To the relief of his global fans, Jia says he has no plans to give up making his unique brand of contemporary commentaries on China’s plunge into modernization. These have made Jia a marginal voice in mainland China — some of his films have been refused release — but a massive presence on the international art film stage.

With credits including “Unknown Pleasures,” “The World,” “Still Life” and last year’s “Mountains May Depart,” Jia has appeared three times in competition in Venice and four times in competition in Cannes. The Toronto festival last year renamed one of its sections “Platform” in honor of one of his first films. And this year in Cannes he has been named as patron of the festival’s Fabrique des Cinemas du Monde discovery section.

If the “guy from Fenyang” (the title of a Walter Salles documentary on Jia) is not selling out, there are other signs that he is taking advantage of the plentiful finance available for entertainment businesses in China – even for as radical a voice as his.

Jia has recently split his Xstream Pictures production company into two parts, with long-standing partner Chow Keung heading Xstream Hong Kong. On May 17 in Cannes, Jia will unveil an online streaming platform for short films made by third-party talent.

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