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China Media Capital Trio Takes Control at Iconic Shaw Brothers

Li Ruigang and two fellow executives from his China Media Capital group have taken three directorial positions at iconic Hong Kong studio Shaw Brothers.

The company made famous by Sir Run Run Shaw was once a dominant force in Hong Kong and Asian cinema, but largely ceased film production in 1987. Today, however, the company holds a key 26% stake in Television Broadcasts (TVB), Hong Kong’s leading free-to-air TV broadcaster and owner of one of the largest Chinese language rights catalogs in the world.

Li has been appointed chairman and non-executive director of Shaw. He is joined by Jiang Wei, MD of the CMC-owned mainland Chinese film distributor Gravity Pictures, who is appointed an executive director of Shaw. Also joining is Thomas Hui, president, chief strategy officer and executive director of CMC Holdings, who will be an non-executive director.

They replace chairman Allan Yap, and directors Gu Jiong and Wong Ka Ching, who are all resigning due to other “heavy work commitments” elsewhere.

The appointments further increase the control of Li and his CMC team over TVB, following Li’s appointment as chairman of TVB last week. That appointment added to some industry concerns that mainland Chinese interests are dominating Hong Kong’s supposedly unrestricted media not through censorship or central government control, but by economic ownership instead. Another high profile example was the acquisition earlier this year of the South China Morning Post newspaper by Alibaba.

The executive appointments also further expand CMC’s control over the Flagship Entertainment Chinese film production venture with Warner Bros. CMC and TVB have a narrow majority of the shares and Gravity Pictures is set as the unit’s distributor in mainland China.

CMC also owns the Fortune Star library of films produced by Shaw’s arch rival Golden Harvest.

Boasting a Hong Kong stock market listing of its own, Shaw could now be positioned to become a far more active company than of late, either as a production company or as a vehicle for fund raising.

In its heyday, Shaw was responsible for iconic Hong Kong studio movie classics films including “One Armed Swordsman,” and “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.” As the golden age of Hong Kong cinema waned, Shaw ended film production to concentrate for over a decade on television. In 2002 its film catalog – some 760 titles – were sold in 2002 to Malaysian billionaire Ananda Krishnan who used them to found Celestial Pictures, a company that now has a TV channels business with Lionsgate and Saban.

Shaw tentatively restarted film production in 2009 though volumes have been low. In the last year, it has been involved as a partner in two film adaptations of TVB series, that went on to become hits in mainland China. Its “Line Walker” recently earned $90.9 million, while “Triumph In The Skies” earned $24.6 million in 2015.

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