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China Lion, Serenity team on film fund

Goal is to raise $150 millon for co-productions

In its first major American venture since landing a hefty investment last year, new distrib China Lion Media has partnered with U.S.-based Serenity Media Group to launch a film fund aimed at raising $150 million.

Serenity topper Christie Hsiao told Variety that private investors from Asia have put in about half of the coin, currently managed by Merrill Lynch. Hsiao, along with China Lion North American prexy Yanming Jiang, is in discussions with Bona Film Group and Huayi Brothers — which both bought a 20% stake in China Lion for an undisclosed sum last year — to contribute $75 million to the new venture.

Fund aims to produce two Chinese-American co-productions budgeted at $20 million-$30 million range per year. China Lion is set to distribute the pics in the territory.

While Hsiao says the fund will avoid hot-button topics unlikely to play in the Chinese marketplace — such as overtly political fare — she and Jiang want what most investors in Sino-American co-productions want: films with global appeal that will also tap into China’s booming theatrical marketplace.

“We’re open to anybody,” Hsiao said. “China’s such a huge market right now. Everyone’s just looking for that one company who can really be the bridge to bridge the two.”

Huayi and Bona originally invested in China Lion to help expand the startup distrib’s North American operations. That included a mandate to participate in co-productions with American filmmakers, which allowed the company to partner with Serenity.

Taiwanese-born Hsiao earned her degree from NYU before launching Serenity, a socially conscious entertainment company aimed at producing film, television and digital content. Exec served as a consulting producer on Alpine’s “The Gold Retrievers” and “Love Is the Drug” before starting her shingle in 2010.

That same year, Jiang co-founded China Lion with current CEO Milt Barlow. Since then, the distrib has released a Sino remake of the 2000 Mel Gibson comedy “What Women Want” and stereoscopic softcore pic “3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy.”

Joint venture between Serenity and China Lion is the latest move in an entertainment gold rush aimed at breaking into the Chinese marketplace. While some of the high-profile coin supposedly entering Hollywood has failed to materialize, a handful of major investments have launched this past year. Those include Oriental DreamWorks, a Shanghai-based toon studio that will operate as a joint venture among DreamWorks Animation, China Media Capital, Shanghai Media Group and Shanghai Alliance Investment, and Bruno Wu’s Harvest Seven Stars Media Fund, which recently partnered with director Justin Lin to create a slate of films that focus on Chinese-American co-productions.

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