China media mogul Li Ruigang joins board of Hollywood talent agency behind Brad Pitt, Beyoncé

TVB and Shaw Brothers boss invests undisclosed sum in talent agency that represents stars such as George Clooney and Jennifer Aniston

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 April, 2017, 6:30pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 April, 2017, 12:28am

China’s top media mogul Li Ruigang has struck an alliance with Creative Artists Agency, the Hollywood giant that represents star names including George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, to form a new entertainment company called CAA China.

The Shanghai tycoon, whose media empire encompasses Hong Kong broadcaster TVB, studio Shaw Brothers as well as the Chinese joint ventures of Warner Brothers and DreamWorks, will also join the talent agency’s board of directors with a minority investment. CAA did not reveal the amount involved in the stake purchase.

The move raised hopes among market observers that more Hong Kong actors will be given opportunities to be cast in Hollywood productions. Li vowed last year to restore local studio Shaw Brothers’ past glory by giving it “access to his extensive Hollywood resources” after taking the helm of the company in October.

The CAA tie-up is also the latest in a string of high-profile deals by Chinese billionaires making their mark in the global entertainment industry, while Hollywood players have also stepped up efforts to cash in on booming Chinese demand for Western media content.

CAA boasts some of the world’s highest-paid celebrities as its clients, ranging from Golden Globe Award winner Jennifer Aniston and Oscar-winning best actress Cate Blanchett to pop divas Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. All four claim an enormous fan base in China, particularly among millennials.

“Li might be looking into more Sino-US co-productions with the CAA alliance. The latest box-office success of Fast and Furious 8 proves that Western blockbusters and stars are still big money machines in China,” Guotai Junan media analyst Ray Zhao said.

Chinese media mogul Li Ruigang outlines plan to restore Shaw Brothers’ lost glory

In China, where the US talent agency set up its Beijing office in 2005, CAA has been involved in nearly every major Sino-US co-production for the past 10 years and has directed more than US$400 million in Chinese capital into English-language releases.

CAA’s Greater China clients include Hero director Zhang Yimou, Taiwanese supermodel Lin Chi-ling and former EXO boy band lead singer Kris Wu Yifan.

“CAA China will supercharge our efforts, from motion pictures, television, endorsements and brand consulting to sports, live events, digital media, and beyond,” CAA president Richard Lovett said.

Li, a former Shanghai government official, is among the first group of Chinese entertainment magnates to extend their footprint to Hollywood, along with China’s richest man Wang Jianlin. In 2014, Li acquired a stake in widescreen specialist Imax Corp’s China business, which later went public in Hong Kong.

The media mogul, who is also vice-chairman of TVB and chairman of Shaw Brothers, told reporters in October that Hong Kong film professionals were “better positioned” to build ties between Chinese and Hollywood filmmakers. “There are fewer such talent on the mainland,” he said.

At the time, he revealed plans to revive the iconic Hong Kong film company byleveraging his close ties with Hollywood.

Soft power: China’s Hollywood dreams not just about making money, says media tycoon Li Ruigang

The 48-year-old tycoon’s media conglomerate CMC Holdings also cooperated with Hollywood behemoth DreamWorks Animation to produce blockbuster sequel Kung Fu Panda 3, which last year grossed US$521 million in global ticket sales on a US$145 million budget. He also bought a 13 per cent stake in the Manchester City Football Club in 2015.

Chinese cinemagoers have rescued a number of big-budget Hollywood films that flopped in the US but raked in bigger box-office receipts in China, such as the action-fantasy Warcraft.

Meanwhile, co-productions that feature both Chinese and Western faces are also on the rise.

A recent example was The Great Wall, a US$150 million Sino-US co-production starring Hollywood A-lister Matt Damon and Hong Kong’s Andy Lau Tak-wah.

The blockbuster was backed by US studio Legendary Entertainment, which was bought by Wang last year. It generated a buzz in China with US$171 million in box-office takings but failed to excite US audiences.

This article has been amended to fix typographical errors