Warner, CMC announce 12-movie package

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Asia / Pacific Roundabout

After forming joint venture Flagship Entertainment in Hong Kong in September last year, Warner Bros. and China Media Capital (CMC) have announced plans for the production and global release of a dozen movies under the Flagship Entertainment banner over the coming two years. Chinese news website china.org.cn reported Warner Bros. chairman Kevin Tsujihara as saying the high-quality co-productions would appeal to a wide demographic of audiences both in China and around the world.

According to CMC chairman Li Ruigang, the film package would include an adaptation of best-selling science-fiction novel MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror by Steve Alten and cost over $100 million to produce. MEG tells the story of a deep-sea diver who while diving in the Mariana Trench is attacked by what he believes to be a megalodon, a gigantic predecessor of modern sharks thought to have been extinct since the Pleistocene era. Nobody believes him, but as the events unfold he encounters more of the creatures, some of which manage to make their way to the surface and wreak havoc.

The Assassin Makes Killing at Asian Film Awards

Acclaimed Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien's martial-arts action film The Assassin (2015) cleaned up an astonishing eight awards at the recent 10th Asian Film Awards in Macao, including best director, best film, best lead actress and best supporting actress. The mega-win has set a new record in the prestigious awards’ history, as The Assassin effectively dethroned Wong Kar-wai’s martial-arts spectacle The Grandmaster (2013), which took home a total of seven trophies in 2014.

Born in China in 1947, Hou Hsiao-hsien himself is of course quite used to success when it comes to his movies. The vast majority of them have over the years bagged numerous awards at international film festivals around the world. Just last year, he took home a Palme d’Or best director trophy from the Cannes International Film Festival, incidentally also for The Assassin.

Taiwanese actress Shu Qi, who won the best actress trophy for playing a female assassin on a mission to kill a political leader in seventh-century China, is one of Hou’s favorites and has been working with the director on numerous films. She is probably best remembered among Western audiences for playing the female lead of kidnapped Chinese girl Li in the 2002 action film The Transporter, alongside Jason Statham. During her acceptance speech in front of a packed auditorium at Macao’s luxurious The Venetian Resort & Casino, she joked, "Thank you, director Hou Hsiao-hsien, thank you for The Assassin, and also thank you for all those bandages and medications that helped get me through the two years of filming and production."

Although held in Macao this year, the Asian Film Awards are organized by the Hong Kong International Film Festival and—together with the festivals at Busan, Tokyo, Taipei, Singapore and Beijing—are today recognized as one of the most prestigious film awards in the region. This year, a total of 36 movies from nine Asian countries competed for the coveted trophies. Other movies that won awards this year included South Korean political thriller The Inside Man (best actor), Japanese fantasy romantic drama Journey to the Shore (best supporting actor), Chinese art-house romance Mountains May Depart (best screenplay), Indian period romantic drama Bajirao Mastani (best visual effects), and Hong Kong-produced mystery thriller Port of Call (best editing), whose lead actress Jessie Li also won the award for best newcomer. Hong Kong martial-arts choreographer Yuen Wo-ping, who among many others has worked on films like The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, as well as the Kill Bill franchise, receivedthis year's lifetime achievement award in tandem with veteran Japanese actress Kirin Kiki. Chinese director Feng Xiaogang was honored with the 10th Anniversary Special Award.

FJI Explains Reporting on Malaysia’s OlaBola

In our previous column, I reported that a local Malaysian film, OlaBola, which dwells on a soccer theme, had not done particularly well at the country’s box office. FJI subsequently received a statement from the production company, Astro Shaw, that this was untrue. The studio’s vice president for communication, Toh Seok Kheng, said in her statement that OlaBola, released on Jan. 28 on 126 screens across Malaysia and neighboring Brunei, had indeed turned out to be among Malaysia’s top-grossing films of all time.

“Moving into its sixth week of theatrical run, OlaBola’s box-office collection remains strong at more than MYR16 million,” Toh Seok Keng wrote at the time, adding that the studio now had a total of three top-grossing local films in its stable. The other two are Polis Evo (2015), which during its theatrical run in the country earned some MYR18 million, and The Journey (2014), which grossed about MYR17.1 million. FJI also was contacted by Derick Ect, an associate editor at The Daily Seni, a local arts and entertainment news portal, who wrote, “As far as the entire nation is aware, [OlaBola is] one of the country’s top grossers of all time.”

Alerted to a possible (and unintentional) misreporting, FJI asked both Astro Shaw and Ect to provide clarifications as per the de-facto box-office positioning of OlaBola during the respective time period. When the data for our previous column was compiled, there was no indication at all that OlaBola was a “top grosser,” nor did the movie appear anywhere in the top 20 Malaysia box-office charts that this writer consulted. It was only during a subsequent exchange of e-mails that it eventually transpired that OlaBola apparently is one of the top-earning local productions of all time.

To put this into perspective: By press time on March 18, OlaBola had reportedly earned some MYR16.5 million (approx. $4.06 mil.) in Malaysia and Brunei during its entire theatrical run since Jan. 28. By comparison, Mainland Chinese action fantasy The Mermaid and Hollywood superhero spectacle Deadpool, both released in Malaysia a full two weeks after OlaBola, had respectively pulled in $6.99 million and $5.27 million—and are reportedly still going rather strong. Meanwhile, Disney’s animated feature Zootopia after its third week of release in Malaysia has already earned about $1.9 million, and Fox’s animated Kung Fu Panda 3 has managed to take $1.32 million during its very first week. Both movies are still screening in Malaysian theatres as this column goes to print.

As a publication catering to an international readership of movie industry and film exhibition professionals, FJI is always looking at the broader picture. FJI gladly acknowledges that OlaBola, which was made with a reported budget of only $1.5 million, has done tremendously well for a local production. The film proved a great audience success in its home country and has very comfortably recouped its investment. FJI also encourages Malaysia’s filmmakers and studios alike to continue engaging in their art and thus help further develop the country’s film industry.

However, in the end, OlaBola’s combined earnings accumulated over a total theatrical run of almost two months can hardly be compared to the slew of Hollywood and foreign blockbusters that routinely scoop Malaysia’s box office. But, cautioned Derick Ect, the fact that OlaBola might not have readily appeared among the top 20 earners during FJI’s research could also have something to do with the circumstance that concise weekly box-office results are not publicly released in Malaysia, a situation that entertainment editors in the region have decried for years. “The reason the film might not have appeared [in the charts]…is due to the fact that in Malaysia weekly box-office tallies for local films are not released to the public. There is no weekly box-office chart here [and] our national film development corporation merely provides cumulative yearly box-office tallies for local films only. As such, it's impossible to accurately compare performances of local and international releases,” he explained.

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