Legendary Entertainment has hired Sirena Liu as the CEO of its China subsidiary, Legendary East. Legendary is the studio behind the “Pacific Rim,” “Jurassic World” and the “Godzilla” movie franchises.
Liu was most recently managing director for Twentieth Century Fox’s China office, a post she’d held since October 2015 until mid 2019. The post became redundant following Fox’s acquisition by Disney.
After a stumbling start in 2011, Legendary East was established as a wholly-owned subsidiary based in China. Its mission was to produce large-scale local films using Hollywood expertise and globally-targeted co-productions that would avoid China’s film import restrictions in their home market.
In 2016, Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda spent the eye-watering sum of $3.5 billion to acquire the Burbank-based parent company, in one of the largest cross-border deals of its kind in the cultural sector. The mega deal caught the attention of Chinese authorities, which moved in mid-2017 to crack down on Chinese firms’ big overseas acquisitions. Wanda, in particular, was pressured to reduce its offshore holdings.
Among the few Chinese-made titles Legendary originated was “The Great Wall,” directed by Zhang Yimou, and starring Matt Damon, which grossed $335 million in 2016. The scope of the Chinese unit also included marketing and distribution roles, and liaison with major Chinese firms on their investments in Hollywood tentpoles.
In her Beijing-based position, Liu will report to Legendary’s CEO Joshua Grode and work closely with Mary Parent, the studio’s vice chairman of worldwide production, on the China releases of its films. Liu’s duties will include managing China-side marketing, developing local partnerships, and boosting official co-production capabilities.
“Sirena’s proven track record and profitability with China’s box office speaks for itself. We are excited to tap into her world-class experience and perspective as we continue to build Legendary East’s presence in China and around the world,” Grode said in a hiring announcement.
“China remains the most exciting international film market, thus the combination of Legendary and China makes Legendary East the perfect place for me,” Liu said. “I am excited to be part of the amazing Legendary team in China, building on Legendary’s solid history of successful title releases.” In 2019, Legendary East supported the China releases of “Pokemon: Detective Pikachu” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” The films grossed $97 million and $135 million, respectively, in the territory.
Liu steps into shoes most recently filled by Jiang Wei, aka Wayne Jiang, who held the post from January 2018. Before that, Jiang had spent a year as an executive director of Shaw Brothers Holdings, after three years as president of Gravity Pictures, a spell at Hong Kong’s Edko Films and seven years at Sony.
Before Jiang was hired, Legendary East’s CEO post had been left vacant for seven months. It had previously been filled by former Wanda exec Jack Gao, who briefly stepped in as interim CEO following the departure of veteran producer Peter Loehr, who was in the role from 2012 to early 2017.
At Twentieth Century Fox, Liu oversaw some of the studio’s most successful China releases, including “The Martian,” “X-Men Apocalypse,” “Ice Age 5,” and “Alita: Battle Angel.” Her team also managed to import eight R-rated films, which are typically harder to squeeze past strict Chinese censorship, including “Logan,” “Alien,” and Fox Searchlight titles “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” with the latter receiving a limited release through China’s National Alliance of Arthouse Cinemas.
Prior to joining Fox in October 2015, Liu ran the entertainment marketing firm Filmworks China, which she founded in 2010 and sold two years later to the global advertising conglomerate WPP. With that company, she put together partnerships between Chinese advertisers and films such as “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Minions,” among others. Liu has previously also worked as director of strategic development for cinema operator Orange Sky Golden Harvest Entertainment, and as director of business development for SEEC Media Group, a Beijing-based international magazine publishing house that managed the Chinese editions of U.S. magazines such as “Sports Illustrated.”