April 28, 2018 / 4:12 AM / 3 months ago

Wanda opens doors to Chinese film metropolis but turns focus back home

QINGDAO, China, April 28 (Reuters) - Wang Jianlin, the billionaire boss of China's Dalian Wanda Group, said on Saturday he will turn the northern port city of Qingdao into a global film production hub as he launched a sprawling studio complex in a ceremony attended by hundreds.

Covering an area equivalent to more than 200 football pitches, the 400-acre Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis boasts the world's biggest movie studio and has been touted as China's answer to Hollywood.

The $8 billion project, built partly on an artificial island, also includes hotels, a theme park and a yacht club.

Wang, whose group controls U.S. cinema chain AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc and U.S. studio Legendary Entertainment, promised generous subsidies for film makers but indicated a focus on China's domestic film market.

"We will boost the Chinese movie industry development," Wang said at the project's opening ceremony.

"We will also turn Qingdao into a global hub for film," he said, making no reference to Hollywood in his brief speech.

Hundreds of Chinese film industry representatives attended, as well as Hollywood executives and Chinese government officials that included the vice governor of Shandong province.

The launch came as the mutual courtship between China and Hollywood looks less rosy.

A handful of U.S.-China film ventures have fallen apart due to cultural clashes. Financing deals - including Wanda's $1 billion wooing of Hollywood studio Dick Clark Productions Inc - have also collapsed. Hollywood's share of the Chinese market has lost ground to a surge of popular and sometimes patriotic-minded Chinese films.

"We are not making any commitment yet," David Kornblum, vice president of international sales and marketing for the Asia-Pacific at Walt Disney Studios, told Reuters on the sidelines of the Oriental launch.

Wanda sold off the Qingdao project to rival property developer Sunac China Holdings Ltd last year amid a sweeping sell-down of assets to raise funds. It retains management control of the project.

However Wanda, which has long been luring Hollywood studios to make movies in China, has said its pledged 5 billion yuan ($790 million) "development fund" still stands.

So far, no major American movie has been produced at Oriental, which partially opened in 2016, except Legendary Entertainment's "Pacific Rim: Uprising" and "Great Wall".

Wanda said previously it aimed to host at least five to six Hollywood projects in its first year of full operation in 2018.

China's box office revenue is still swelling at double-digit rates after years of breakneck growth and, with Hollywood know-how and bigger budgets, Chinese movies are gaining momentum as they find ways to play on domestic themes and improve production quality.

$1 = 6.3325 Chinese yuan renminbi Reporting by Li Pei and Joseph Campbell Writing by Ryan Woo Editing by Paul Tait

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