Zhang top influence in Chinese pic biz

List based on ability to get a film made, public popularity

SHANGHAI A list of the most influential individuals in China’s film industry in 2003 confirms Zhang Yimou’s recent return to form, following the massive success of “Hero” last year. The list, published by popular domestic film magazine “New Cinema,” features a mix of the usual big name actors and directors, as well as several lesser-known industry figures in the newly emerging indie production-distribution sector.

Zhang’s pole position should come as no surprise given the massive morale injection he gave the industry last year, when his Oscar-nominated blockbuster “Hero” took over 250 million yuan ($30 million) at the domestic box office — over 25% of 2003’s total B.O. — making it the most successful Chinese film of all time. The film reconfirmed his position as a creative tour-de-force following a string of less successful pics in the ’90s.

Other directors on the list include Feng Xiaogang, at number three, China’s king of satire. His yearly New Year Celebration Movies (“he sui pian”) are a regular feature in the entertainment calendar. His latest, “Cell Phone,” is doing well at the B.O., having taken close to $6 million since its release in late December 2003.

Fifth generation helmers Chen Kaige and Tian Zhuangzhuang also feature lower down the list, the latter having made a critical comeback in 2002 with “Springtime in a Small Town.” Directors Zhang Yuan (“Green Tea”), He Ping (“Warriors of Heaven and Earth”) and Huo Jianqi (“Nuan” — winner of the best film award at the 2003 Tokyo Film Festival) complete the helmer line-up.

Of the six actors listed, it will come as no surprise that Jiang Wen tops the bill, at number five overall. A star since playing the lead in Zhang Yimou’s debut feature “Red Sorghum” (1987), he has recently starred in hits like “Green Tea” and “Warriors of Heaven and Earth.” He is also a director in his own right, with the critically-acclaimed “In the Heat of the Sun” and “Devils on the Doorstep” to his name.

Other thesps include actress Zhao Wei, at nine, who starred in four of 2003’s biggest hits. Lower down the list are long-time Feng Xiaogang collaborator Ge You (“Cell Phone”), as well as Gong Li (“Raise the Red Lantern”) and Zhang Ziyi (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”). Xu Jinglei, best known as an actress (“Spring Subway”), but making her helming debut in 2003 with “My Father and I,” also features.

Most of the producers on the list are unheard of outside China but are increasingly powerful in the country’s rapidly decentralizing film industry. Ma Baoping, chairman of Poly Culture & Arts Company, tops the list, at number two overall. Poly last year bought 50% of production/distrib giant Asian Union (now called Poly Huayi), one of the production companies behind “Crouching Tiger” and distib for “Green Tea.”

Li Bolun, chairman of New Century Hero Film Investment, comes in at number four overall. New Century was founded in 2001 by the China Film Group and China Trust Culture & Sports Co, and has interests in several upcoming films including Chen Kaige’s “Unlimited” as well as exhibs. Li is also chairman of China Trust. Dong Ping, president of the newly formed Poly Huayi Media Holdings Co (formerly Asian Union), is also identified as a top player in the industry. Also making the list is Wang Zhongjun, chairman of film backers Huayi Bros. Taihe Film Investment. Huayi Bros — not to be confused with Poly Huayi — has been behind many of China’s biggest recent hits, including Feng Xiaogang’s “Big Shot’s Funeral.”

The list, which doesn’t include government film figures, is based on a combination of each individual’s ability to get a film off the ground, their control over projects and their popularity with the public, and is well-respected amongst local industryites.

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