Poly Bona, the mainland's third-largest film distributor that is partly owned by private equity firm Sequoia Capital China, has agreed to inject 500 million yuan (HK$567 million) into a new venture with award-winning Hong Kong director and producer Peter Chan Ho-sun. The venture, Cinema Popular, planned to produce 15 movies ranging from blockbusters to small-budget productions within three years, Mr Chan said. Cinema Popular grew out of Mr Chan's We Produce studio. The shareholding structure of the venture was not disclosed. 'In most cases, I will take up the producer role, leaving others behind the camera ... I envisage the future of Cinema Popular as China's answer to [Steven] Spielberg's DreamWorks,' Mr Chan said in Beijing. Box-office revenue on the mainland reached 4.4 billion yuan last year, up 24 per cent from 2007, following 26 per cent growth in the previous year. A sustained government-sponsored drive to safeguard intellectual property has partly contributed to the robust expansion of the market, once deeply troubled by piracy. 'I guess there's no other place in the world where so many people are going back to the cinema to watch movies on the big screen,' Mr Chan said. Mr Chan has won multiple international awards - including a Hong Kong Film Festival Best Director award in 2007 - for a variety of works, from the drama Comrades, Almost a Love Story (1996) to action-packed epics such as The Warlords (2007). Poly Bona, the largest private movie conglomerate in the country and a distant third in the domestic distribution market, defying the dominance of state-controlled Chinese Film Group, is one of the most active mainland distributors of Hong Kong movies. US-backed venture capital groups Sequoia Capital and SIG Asia made preliminary investments in Poly Bona totalling about US$10 million in 2007. A second round of fund-raising of about US$20 million was done last year. Most of the movies depend on private or corporate financing. 'The movie business is anticyclical in nature,' said Tim Gong, a general partner of SIG Asia. 'I think the current downturn will generate more moviegoers, as people turn to cheap entertainment in times of economic uncertainty, and China still has a great potential, with such an enormous population base.'