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Hot Internet toon moves into film, merchandise

Spring House Ent. hopes to enter traditional markets

TAIPEI — With the help of a 10-year-old boy, one filmmaker’s virtual dreams of Internet fame and fortune have turned into reality. Veteran director Micho Chang’s Spring House Entertainment Inc. appears to have weathered the Internet storm and reported earned revenue of $2.9 million last year. The digital content provider’s success has been built on the back of the animated star of its Web site, an irreverent boy named A-kuei.

Today, Spring House hopes to parlay its online venture into more traditional markets, including the theatrical release early next year of its first feature-length A-kuei pic, tentatively titled “A-kuei and His Magic Hammer.”

None of this, Chang maintains, could have happened without the Internet. “The Internet bubble didn’t burst,” he says. “The ‘money bubble’ did.”

Spring House didn’t spend lavishly during its start-up period, relying largely on word-of-mouth. And it doesn’t rely entirely on revenue from its Internet venture, but has coin coming in from a number of outlets.

“The old business models are no longer valid in this day and age,” Chang says. “To succeed on the Internet, we need to invent new models.”

In June Spring House started charging users of its Web site and, according to Chang, the site has some 300,000 subscribers across Asia. The company now relies equally on three sources for its funding: subscribers to its Web site, merchandising deals and spin-off products, such as VCDs of its A-kuei cartoons.

At the center of the storm is A-kuei, a boy who lives in the virtual world of Springfall. His adventures, contained in 90-second to two-minute clips, have become popular viewing for moppets and teens, and have even gained a large following among older viewers.

A-kuei’s face is now plastered across Taiwan on stationery and in adverts. The virtual child even briefly anchored his own segment on a cable TV news program. In addition, A-kuei’s image is one of the few Taiwanese creations to make merchandising inroads in mainland China and Japan.

A self-taught computer wizard, Chang says innovations like Flash animation allow animators to create images faster and users to view clips more conveniently without wasting time on downloads.

Chang ultimately has much greater ambitions for his company. He sees Spring House as an experiment, one that, if successful, will ring in a new era in filmmaking.

“Traditional movies can’t satisfy audiences anymore,” Chang says. “The entire concept of making movies on film is outdated.”

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