The first thing that people like to report about Bill Kong is how shy and unassuming he is. Next they say how powerful and successful he is. Unusually, both are true.
Today he is simply the most influential producer anywhere in Asia and has the backing of two Hollywood studios to prove it.
Kong took over the family Hong Kong cinema chain in the late 1980s. At the time, Edko was set up as a distributor of foreign films. Now it is the Hong Kong outlet for selected indie movies, plus Sony and Universal. Edko and Kong then hit the big time when they moved into production a decade later and took a financial leap of faith on “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” The pic grossed $128 million in the U.S. alone and redefined the way that the world looked at Asian film.
Kong regularly describes himself as lucky. But bizzers are impressed by his ability to meld Asian and Western production elements, whether it’s funding from multiple sources or shots from a variety of f/x houses.
Particularly smart is Kong’s ability to be both canny Hong Konger and respectful Chinese businessman who knows his way round the corridors of political and cultural power in Beijing. His unflashy, low profile is authentic, but it is also highly effective.
As testament to that, Edko recently took over handling Universal titles in China from UIP. Having maintained a long and successful relationship with U’s Focus Features, Kong is expected to be given coin and freedom in the region. One senior U exec tells Variety: “Bill Kong is our China strategy.”
Possibly underestimated is Kong’s consistent ability to pick material and present it well. He has scarcely had a flop: His track record as producer includes “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers,” and he was also one of the few outsiders to score with a Korean production (“Windstruck”), plus he has recently propelled pop superstar Jay Chou’s directorial debut, “Secret,” into the top 10 in both Hong Kong and China. Next up is a bold move with French helmer Chris Nahon and Korean star Gianna Jun in “Blood: The Last Vampire.”