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Berlinale: Hong Kong Icon Golden Harvest Plans Return to Production

Soon to be flush with cash, Golden Harvest, one of the most iconic names in Asian cinema, is planning a return to film production and distribution. The move is expected to follow the recently agreed sale of parent company Orange Sky Golden Harvest’s entire exhibition business in China.

OSGH last week announced final terms for the disposal of its loss-making chain of mainland theaters. Nan Hai, parent of Dadi, China’s No. 2 cinema chain, is the buyer. The sale will give OSGH net proceeds of $463 million (HK$3.59 billion.)

OSGH now says that it has earmarked some $168 million (HK$1.3 billion) for expansion of its existing business areas, including production, distribution, and cinema ownership outside mainland China.

It envisages film production in Hong Kong and China spanning remakes of films in the Golden Harvest back catalog, as well as co-investing in third-party pictures plus virtual reality and augmented reality products.

In the early 1990s, Golden Harvest sold off most of the library of its 1970s to mid-1990s titles that spanned Bruce Lee to early Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Michelle Yeoh titles. (Now under the Fortune Star banner, and are controlled by China Media Capital.) In fact, Korean company Studio LYD is currently making a 20-episode TV drama based on Peter Chan-directed “Comrades: Almost a Love Story,” which was made as a feature film in 1996. LYD acquired remake rights from Warner Bros., which bought part of the library in 1998 from Golden Harvest founder Raymond Chow.

However, from the remaining 135 library titles, the company says that it has identified some 20 films capable of being revisited. And it has unproduced screenplays for a further eight movies.

In recent years OSGH’s production and distribution activities have been minimal. It made small minority investments in “Red Cliff,” and “The Founding of a Party,” while its distribution arm had partial rights to “Rob-B-Hood” and “Protégé.” Now, OSGH is also proposing to ramp up its distribution business in Hong Kong and mainland China. It says that it will acquire distribution rights to four to five films per year.

The company, which has known several previous large changes of direction, was forced to sell its Chinese cinemas after failing to make them profitable. Despite having a head start on many other exhibition operators, OSGH blamed its Chinese multiplex losses on a lack of scale.

After selling the Chinese cinemas, OSGH will remain involved in operating 23 screens in 6 cinemas in Hong Kong; holding a 50% interest in 91 screens at 11 Golden Village cinemas in Singapore; and a minority interest in 13 Vie Show multiplexes with 127 screens in Taiwan.

From the lump sum, OSGH is also proposing to pay out $129 million (HK$1 billion) as a special dividend to existing shareholders and to pay off a further $88 million (HK$680 million) of debts.

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