China Lion to roar in more markets
By Patrick Frater
Wed, 09 November 2011, 08:24 AM (HKT)
China Lion Film Distribution Inc, the pioneering multi-territory distributor of Chinese films, has big plans following its re-financing by China's two largest private sector studios.
Its first five-country day-and-date release is set for February next year.
The company this month announced cash injections of a significant, but undisclosed, size from both Huayi Brothers Media Corporation 華誼兄弟傳媒股份有限公司 and rival Bona Film Group Ltd 博納影業集團有限公司, giving both of them stakes approaching 20% of the enlarged company.
China Lion, which is operated by Milt BARLOW and his partner JIANG Yanming 蔣燕鳴, and has until now been an overseas distributor of Chinese films, now sees itself moving into distribution of foreign films in China, expanding into production and adding further territories and genres to its international distribution roster.
"Our aim is the global distribution of Chinese movies worldwide including Europe and UK," says Barlow, who shaped the North American part of the company as a larger mirror of his own firm Incubate which is operational in Australia and New Zealand.
Unlike some other distributors, China Lion focuses on Chinese diaspora audiences, rather than somewhat elusive cross-over targets. And it strikes up relationships with exhibition chains interested in diversifying their clientele through more multinational programming.
"The deals with Huayi and Bona improve our credibility. You can't get better endorsement than the two biggest players buying in, and they increase our reliability of supply," says Barlow.
Barlow explains that Huayi and Bona are not obliged to release their films in North America though China Lion and are free to sell rights to third parties, but says that China Lion is a privileged partner and may be allowed to match a rival distributor's bid.
China Lion may also be a favoured channel for Huayi and Bona's imports of foreign movies into China.
"We are looking to 2-4 pictures per year to be acquired for China distribution," says Barlow, who can employ the existing releasing infrastructure of Huayi and Bona under a 'label deal'. "We can use either distributor. Both companies are looking to use China Lion as a conduit and may scale back their own acquisitions."
The first title to be distributed in China under the China Lion name will be Malaysian family animation Seefood (2011) which it picked up earlier this year. It is expected to go out through Bona in the first quarter of 2012 on 2,000 screens. The firm has also announced Bruce Willis-starring Set Up, though this will not be dated for release until it has completed the censorship process.
In the UK the company is weeks away from its second release, Louis KOO 古天樂-vehicle Magic to Win 開心魔法 (2011) (pictured), acquired from Pegasus Motion Pictures Distribution Ltd 天馬電影製作有限公司, which supplied the company's first UK release, 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy 3D肉蒲團之極樂寶鑑 (2011). Magic will be given a 5-print UK release on 9 Dec, a week after its 1 Dec China outing.
UK releasing is executed through local distributor Metrodome Distribution, which handles marketing and promotion on a picture-by-picture basis, and complements China Lion's deal with exhibitor Odeon Cinemas. "Odeon fits well with our ambitions as it also has a multi-territory footprint in Europe," says Barlow.
The UK will be a part of the five country day-and-date release of Hong Kong comedy franchise picture All's Well, End's Well 2012 八星抱喜. Squarely targeting the Chinese New Year market, the film will be released in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and UK on 23 and 24 Jan 2012.
While the Huayi and Bona stake purchases will add to the company's durability and credibility — as does the arrival as chairman of Greg COOTE, former Village Roadshow and Dune Entertainment executive. Some in the industry have criticised it for not breaking out of the niche business and achieving 'cross-over'.
"We've had good traction in 2011. But we have not done many big pictures in 2011. The curve is upwards, but the slope of the curve depends on the quality of the pictures," says Barlow.
"We are one year into a journey of many years – we will take the long term approach. There is no reason to think that we can't do with Chinese films what Bollywood is doing for Indian ones in North America." There is clearly some way to go before that happens. China Lion scored $425,000 with hit If You Are the One II 非誠勿擾Ⅱ (2010) in North America, a figure regularly eclipsed by the opening weekend of Bollywood blockbusters that can open on 80 prints or more.
Barlow argues that it takes more than one year of films regularly in cinemas for North American audiences to break the habit of consuming Chinese content via pirate DVDs or illegal downloads.
But the company is not simply waiting for that to happen. Barlow says that another development may be a secondary targeting of art-house audiences. This could involve acquiring art-house titles as well as giving films an initial "Chinatown release" followed by a slower release in different theatres, marketed to art-audiences. Barlow says this is "a case of having two bites at the cherry."
Another may be the acquisition and release of more Cantonese-language titles.
3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy
Okay but over-long costume hijinks that turn rather dark in the second half.
All's Well, End's Well 2012
Latest instalment of the Hong Kong New Year comedy franchise is less brash and more charming.
If You Are the One II
Sequel is more melancholy, but gets by with film technique and on-screen chemistry.
Magic to Win
Lame college fantasy involving a girls' volleyball team and battling "magicians".
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