Filmmaker ChinaVision Media blazes franchise trail
Inspired by the success of Mission: Impossible and James Bond, ChinaVision chairman hopes to produce home-grown franchise movies
Hong Kong-listed filmmaker ChinaVision Media, a major investor in the mainland blockbuster Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, plans to invest in a number of sequels in coming years.
The ambition is to turn the films into money-spinners like the James Bond and Mission: Impossible franchises.
The company also plans to open a "Journey to the West" theme park in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, which could become a tourist attraction, according to chairman Dong Ping.
"China's box office has grown almost 40 per cent every year in the past five years and it is going to be as big as the US market in three to five years' time. The mainland market is now ready to accept a home-grown franchise movie," Dong told the South China Morning Post.
Dong is a pioneer filmmaker who has invested in many blockbusters and award-winning films including Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which won two Oscars in 2001. He plans to make a sequel to the kung fu movie, which may also become a franchise.
Directed by Stephen Chow Sing-chi, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons became the second-highest-grossing Chinese-language film on the mainland, earning 1.25 billion yuan (HK$1.6 billion).
Beijing-based ChinaVision has signed up Chow to direct five more films, including more than one sequel of the Journey to the West series.
The adventure blockbuster, of which ChinaVision owns 30 per cent, was loosely based on the ancient classical novel Journey to the West by Wu Chengen and is about a Monkey King and two other followers who accompany their master monk in going west to obtain the Buddha's teachings.
"The novel Journey to the West is our own cultural heritage and many of its characters have been household names in China for generations. The series has been popular across Asia and it may become an export to the West in future," Dong said.
"A franchise movie is a new concept in China's film market but we have seen both the James Bond and Mission: Impossible series become very popular among mainland audiences. There is no reason why we cannot produce our own film franchise."
The 24 James Bond movies have grossed US$6.2 billion worldwide in the past 50 years while the latest one, Skyfall, grossed almost US$60 million in China in January.
The four Mission: Impossible movies starring Tom Cruise have grossed a combined US$2.1 billion at box offices over 15 years. The latest one, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, grossed US$101 million in China's box office last year, representing 20 per cent of its international sales outside the United States.
Dong said a successful franchise movie would attract repeated filmgoers and draw people to a theme park based on it.
"It is a natural expansion. If the movie can sell well, so will the theme park and the related products," he said.
ChinaVision will focus its support on films with well-known directors to capture the growing market.
However, Dong will continue to expand the company's television, newspaper and internet businesses. It has a Beijing newspaper and a high-end female magazine, and also produces television programmes.
The firm has also teamed up with mainland internet player Tencent to use its platforms like Tencent Microblog, QQ.com Qzone and its video platform to distribute films, television dramas and mobile entertainment content.
"Films can be very profitable, but then not every film can be guaranteed to be a commercial success. The television and other media businesses can bring more stable income to our shareholders," Dong said.
Last year, ChinaVision achieved a profit of HK$177.15 million, compared with a loss of HK$75.34 million in 2011.