The rise of Chollywood: Billionaire Wang Jianlin signs Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicole Kidman to create world's biggest film studio

Jianlin has signed a 50 billion yuan deal to build China's version of Hollywood

Adam Sherwin
Monday 23 September 2013 13:16
Actress Nicole Kidman shakes hands with fans at a red carpet event promoting Wanda Group's Oriental Movie Metropolis project in Qingdao, Shandong province.
Actress Nicole Kidman shakes hands with fans at a red carpet event promoting Wanda Group's Oriental Movie Metropolis project in Qingdao, Shandong province.

China’s richest man claims to have signed up Nicole Kidman and Leonardo DiCaprio for a 50 billion yuan (£5 billion) plan to build a massive, state-of-the-art studio complex which will be the country's version of Hollywood.

Wang Jianlin said his Dalian Wanda Group, which operates cinemas, hotels and department stores in China, will construct the world’s biggest movie facility in the eastern seaside city of Qingdao.

The Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis’s 20 studios will include a permanent underwater studio and a 10,000 square-metre (108,000 square feet) lot, large enough to recreate entire towns from the Chinese Ming and Qing dynasties.

The complex, an attempt to dominate China’s rapidly growing film market, will nestle under a Chinese adaptation of the Hollywood sign.

It will include a theme park, an Imax research and development centre, cinemas and China’s biggest film and celebrity wax museums. The first phase is planned to open in June 2016 and it will be fully operational by June 2017.

Mr Wang spent an estimated $50 million to lure Hollywood executives and talent including Leonardo DiCaprio, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Nicole Kidman and John Travolta to a glitzy red-carpet launch for the project. The Oscar-winning producer Harvey Weinstein also attended.

Dalian Wanda has signed a preliminary deal with "a number of global film and television giants and talent agencies", representing stars such as DiCaprio, to shoot about 30 foreign films a year. It did not name the companies.

Mr Wang also hopes to attract more than 50 Chinese production companies to make at least 100 domestic films and television shows a year.

Mr Wang boasted of his plans to dominate the Chinese movie market, which overtook Japan to become the world's second biggest after ticket sales rose 36 per cent last year to 2.7 billion dollars (£1.7 billion). Dalian Wanda, which controls 6,000 screens in China, last year bought the US cinema chain AMC for 2.6 billion dollars (£1.6 billion).

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"There's no single company in the whole world that has a big-scale production base, and at the same time has screening and distribution channels. Wanda Group is the first one in the world," Mr Wang said.

Leonardo DiCaprio prepares to sign autographs for fans in Beijing

Wanda’s recent production credits include the Keanu Reeves-directed film Man of Tai Chi. Mr Wang hopes to pair Hollywood’s biggest names with Asian stars including including Zhang Ziyi, Jet Li and Tony Leung to produce blockbusters with global appeal.

China's government currently allows only 34 foreign films per year for national distribution. At least 14 of them must be made in 3D or for the big-screen Imax format. The Chinese government is keen to build up a domestic studio which can challenge the might of Sony and Warner Bros.

"The Oriental Movie Metropolis is a major step in China's strategy to become a global cultural powerhouse," Mr Wang said at the launch.

Mr Wang, who made his fortune through real estate development, was named China's richest person earlier this month with a fortune of 22 billion dollars (£13.7 billion) by the Hurun Report, which follows China's wealthy. Forbes also said Mr Wang rose to the top spot on its China rich list, with his estimated fortune rising to 14 billion dollars (£8.7 billion).

Mr Wang has made a $20 million donation to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for its new film museum, to help cement his status among Hollywood’s deal-makers.

Despite China’s cinematic ambitions, work on a $1.27 billion co-production complex Chinawood, outside Tianjin, appears to have stalled.

Wang Jianlin, chairman of Dalian Wanda Group

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