A media universe built on Shaw Bros classics
Hong Kong-based Celestial Pictures, which owns the world's largest Chinese-language film library, is expanding into online gaming through creating what it says will be the city's answer to Marvel Universe's comic superheroes.
The first step came last week with the launch of My Kingdom Game for the iPhone and iPod Touch, available for free on the company's website.
The move comes ahead of next month's release at local and regional cinemas of My Kingdom, a 70 million-yuan martial arts epic that it is co-producing with mainland studio Skyland Films (Beijing) and production company DW Films. The film was produced by industry veteran Andre Morgan and stars heartthrob Wu Chun and Han Geng.
A version of the game for the iPad is also on the way.
Celestial Pictures said it planned to go beyond film and TV productions by tapping into the gaming and animation business. It appointed Justin Weng as vice-president of game development and licensing in April, and is developing animated characters based on 100 action heroes selected from the 760 Shaw Brothers classics it owns.
'We are creating a universe in which they all interact. It's like a Shaw universe. No one has seen this before,' said Ross Pollack, chief executive of Celestial. Pollack said the characters would be similar to Marvel comic heroes like Spiderman and the Hulk.
'With these characters we can explore gaming and animation territories.' The company would adopt a 360-degree 'transmedia' approach across films, games and TV productions, where they are all related.
Celestial Pictures, a subsidiary of the Malaysian Astro All Asia Networks, would initially invest about US$500,000 into its animation and games project, Pollack said, and would be looking for partners for the venture.
Celestial is currently collaborating with a company based in Los Angeles and another on the mainland to do characterisation for the project. Each company is responsible for drawing the characters according to American or Asian comic style.
The characterisation was expected to be completed by the autumn, Pollack said, and another game was planned for release next year. The company hopes to launch one to five games every year.
But while its new games division may top the agenda at the moment, Celestial Pictures would not neglect its core businesses. Celestial recently signed a deal with Sony Max, a 24-hour action and reality TV channel in Africa, licensing the Shaw titles to the continent for the first time.
And with an eye on the fast-growing box office revenues on the mainland, Celestial is looking into producing two to four feature films within the next year.
Potential titles include remakes of Shaw classics like Come Drink with Me, One-Armed Swordsman and Five Deadly Venoms. Pollack said the projects would be co-produced by Hong Kong and mainland partners with each project budgeted at no more than US$10 million.
The company is also looking into making three to four productions for pay-TV that will lead to opportunities to take the storylines into games.
Pollack said the company had recently co-produced the 30-episode martial arts drama Kung Fu School at a cost of US$100,000 per episode.
Also on the cards is a move to high definition programming. Out of the 760 Shaw titles that have been re-mastered and digitised, 133 are already in HD format. Another 217 titles are now waiting to be converted into HD.
'We are not creating just one project, we are creating an ecosystem,' Pollack said.