Village Roadshow to sell stake in Singapore chain

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Asia / Pacific Roundabout

Australian production, distribution and exhibition group Village Roadshow Limited (VRL) will sell its 50% stake in Singaporean theatre chain Golden Village to its joint-venture partner, Hong Kong-based Orange Sky Golden Harvest Entertainment, for A$165 million ($130 million). In a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange, Village Roadshow said it would get $117 million after tax from the sale. "The proceeds of the sale will initially be used to reduce VRL’s debt levels while allowing VRL to progress its previously announced growth strategies," the company said. The company owns theme parks and cinemas in Australia, a related film distribution business, cinemas in Asia and the U.S. and Village Roadshow Studios, as well as a stake in the Village Roadshow Entertainment Group, the holding company for production firms Village Roadshow Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures Asia.

Golden Village is the largest exhibitor in Singapore, with a market share of 44.5%, the companies said. Village Roadshow reported in August in its full fiscal-year results through May 31 that its share of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization for Golden Village was $6.6 million. "This was a strong result, as uncertain economic conditions saw Singapore’s box-office industry decline by 6.8%," the company said at the time. Back then, VRL also reported that it was still in talks to sell its stake in Golden Village to mm2Asia for $136.6 million. However, the announced sale to Orange Sky now means that the original deal, which had stalled in August, is not going to proceed. The selloff to Orange Sky is expected to be completed before the end of the year.

Offended Cambodia Bans Kingsman

Cambodia has banned Hollywood action comedy Kingsman: The Golden Circle over the movie’s alleged negative portrayal of the Southeast Asian nation. The ban was issued on the grounds that the film is “unacceptable for local audiences,” as it shows “Cambodia as a land where terrorists stay and cause trouble for the world," according to a statement released by the authorities.

Bok Borak, an official with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, told the local English-language daily The Phnom Penh Post, “After we reviewed the film, we found some problems." Meanwhile, local distribution company Westec Media called the decision "childish.” "Not every movie can depict Cambodia as a heaven and we need to face the reality that all countries [in the world] harbor criminals," the company said in a statement.

In the film, the titular British “Kingsman” spy agency teams up with a U.S. spy organization to search for and destroy the secret base of an international terrorist network located in an ancient temple hidden in the jungles of an unnamed Asian country. While apparently none of the scenes were shot on location in Cambodia, the temple resembles Ta Prohm, a 12th-century complex in the north of the country and part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s prime tourist attraction. Cambodia has previously banned four other Hollywood pictures including The Wolf of Wall Street and Fifty Shades of Grey, likewise citing their “unacceptability for local audiences.”

“Disappearing Chinese Villain” Shores Up China B.O.

A research study conducted by Hong Kong-based Dragon Horse Films Limited shows a surprising correlation between the growth of the Chinese box office and the disappearance of Chinese villains from foreign productions. According to the study, foreign pictures that do not feature Chinese gangsters as their antagonists or portray Chinese culture negatively typically fare much better at the local box office—and also are less prone to censorship.

“Foreign films submitted for release in China must pass government censorship, and movies portraying Chinese people or Chinese culture in a negative way are banned or have scenes cut before they can be screened,” the report says. Producers and studios have become increasingly aware of these circumstances and are wary to not include potentially offending characters or storylines in their films to increase their earning potential in China, now the world’s second-largest film market.

“With the rising importance of the mainland Chinese box office, Hollywood and Hong Kong producers routinely self-censor stories to appease Beijing’s strict censorship rules,” said Michael T. George of MTG Asia Ltd., who contributed to the report. “That means anything intellectually challenging is to be avoided. No politics. No social issues. Not even a wisp of irony. Authorities must always be portrayed in a positive light—unless they are corrupt foreigners,” George added.

According to the Dragon Horse Films report, the turning point came in 2011 when the Chinese box office passed the $2 billion mark. That also was when the number of films produced or distributed by Hollywood studios that featured Chinese villains began to decline versus those without such characters. China’s box office takings are forecast to exceed US$8 billion in 2017.

So far this year, nine English-language films with Chinese storylines and/or characters have been released or announced for release. Only two of those have Chinese villains in supporting character roles, but neither are Hollywood studio films: Independent film The Jade Pendant features Tzi Ma as a Chinese triad boss, while the other title, Smart Chase, is a U.S.-China co-production and shows some mainland Chinese criminals.

The Dragon Horse Films research report, titled “Chinese Movie Villains,” lists more than 120 English-language movies with Chinese storylines and/or characters that have been released since mainland China opened its economy in 1978. It has been made available as a “reward” for contributing to a Kickstarter campaign to raise seed funding for The Last Days of Hong Kong, a science-fiction noir movie currently being developed by the studio.

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