China’s Heyi Pictures announces movie lineup

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Asia / Pacific Roundabout

Heyi Pictures, the movie business unit of China’s leading Internet television company Youku Tudou Inc., has unveiled its movie projects for 2015. The six films are mostly genre films, reflecting Heyi's underlying strategy to bring proven intellectual properties (IP) from the online and offline worlds to the big screen.

The lineup includes a film adaptation based on “Gardenia Blossom,” a song performed by top TV show host/actor Jiong He that captured the hearts and minds of a generation of young Chinese students and topped the charts for weeks, and a feature-length version of “Surprise,” China’s top web comedy show that has become a social phenomenon in China with over 1.6 billion cumulative views since its 2013 debut. The studio also has slated movie productions of “Let's Get Married,” a popular Chinese romance TV series from 2013 that achieved the highest viewership rating that year; a film adaptation of You've Got to Have a Dream, What if it Comes True?, a top-selling comic book with a large following on Weibo (China’s version of Twitter), and How Much Love Can Be Played, a film based on a record-setting stage play which has scored more than 3,000 shows across China since its debut in 2006. Last but not least, Heyi Pictures also plans to produce a Chinese remake of Thai romantic comedy A Teacher's Diary, which broke box-office records in Thailand last year and also was submitted by the National Federation of Thai Film Associations as the country’s candidate for Best Foreign-Language Film at the 2015 Academy Awards

While parent company Youku Tudou Inc has continued to aggressively expand its presence in online entertainment content, Heyi Pictures has made remarkable inroads into the cinematic movie sector since its launch only six months ago. The studio so far has co-produced 11 films for the silver screen, which raked in combined box-office receipts of RMB3.3 billion ($538 mil.), including The ContinentFleet of Time and The Taking of the Tiger Mountain 3D. The movies managed to take three spots in China's top 10 domestic movies in 2014.

Heyi Pictures CEO Allen Zhu attributed his business unit’s tremendous success partly to the rise in popularity of genre films in China in 2014, a trend he believes to become even more pronounced this year. "I see 2015 as the year of genre films [in China]. We are capitalizing on this opportunity by bringing successful intellectual properties from the online and offline worlds to the silver screen, transforming them into genre films that suit their original stories,” he said. "It's a fast and reliable way to create content for the silver screen. IPs are in essence unique stories with branded characters, and they have a word-of-mouth-based reputation as well as an existing fan community. Our [parent company’s] experience in Internet video and incubating productions…can be leveraged toward incubating other IPs as well. We're sharing these experiences and we aim to become China's number-one movie incubation platform."

Thai Body Confident Foreign Shoots Will Rebound in 2015

The Thailand Film Office (TFO), the country’s body governing and regulating foreign productions, has admitted that 2014 was a challenging year for Thailand's international production services industry, as political instability had led to the cancellation of a number of film and television projects from overseas.

TFO director Ubolwan Sucharitakul acknowledged that there had been cause for concern: “One of our roles is to support and coordinate Thailand's registered production services companies. We were hearing serious concerns from a number of these companies last year that overseas producers were nervous about the political situation.” But while international news may have spread alarm, the truth was that Thailand actually remained fully open for business and that foreign productions shooting in Thailand were entirely unaffected, she insisted. “A number of productions which scouted Thailand realized that they could proceed without concern, and chose to do so,” she claimed.

TFO’s final statistics for 2014 show that the country hosted 631 international productions last year (including TV and TVC projects), generating a total revenue of more than $59 million. This was nevertheless a decrease of 11% year-on-year. However, it was still higher than the revenues earned in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. “Especially 2013 was an exceptional year for Thailand's production services industry. I said at the time that it would be enormously challenging to match those figures in 2014. So overall we are very satisfied with the 2014 results,” Sucharitakul stated. She added that there still were some very encouraging trends last year: “We saw 122 productions from Europe, more than in any year before, and we [also welcomed an unprecedented] 37 productions from China…”

TFO continues to promote Thailand as a filming location for international productions by attending major international film markets and festivals worldwide, but the office also stages its own promotional activities. For example, the third Thailand International Film Destination Festival in early February 2015 showcased ten international movies that had been at least partially shot in Thailand and invited more than 70 international film students to participate in the “Amazing Thailand Film Challenge” competition and make a short film in the country.

“Productions from the USA and Europe continue to remain important to us. While the number of movie projects [from there] is unlikely to increase dramatically, their average budget is higher than that of [productions from] other regions,” Sucharitakul asserted. But the area which has seen the most dramatic growth is the number of films from China. “As the Chinese market has expanded, we have heard many reports from producers that production costs [within China] have risen and that the [domestic] skills base has not expanded in line with growing demand. Therefore, Thailand is [becoming] increasingly attractive to Chinese producers seeking high production values, experienced crews and reasonable costs.”

After a lukewarm 2014, Ubolwan Sucharitakul is excited about the potential opportunities this year. “We are very optimistic about the prospects for [Thailand’s] production services industry in 2015. We have seen a noticeable rise in the number of [shooting] permit applications, while [local] production services companies are likewise reporting a number of major [overseas] productions due to film this year. We are confident that 2015 will see more international productions than ever before come to Thailand.”

For inquiries and feedback, contact Thomas Schmid at thomas.schmid@filmjournal.com.