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Chinese language cinema

Billionaire actress Zhao Wei splashes out 3b yuan on animation firm

Longwei Culture & Media buys controlling stake in little-known Shenzhen-listed animation studio Zhejiang People Culture

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 December, 2016, 8:38pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 December, 2016, 10:56pm

Billionaire actress and celebrity investor Zhao Wei has made her biggest stock purchase in years, splashing out a staggering three billion yuan (HK$3.34 billion) to acquire a little-known animation company listed in Shenzhen.

Just after the Christmas weekend Longwei Culture & Media, owned by the Chinese star who is one of the wealthiest actresses on the planet, said it had agreed to buy 29 per cent of Zhejiang People Culture to assume control of the animation and mobile gaming producer.

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That is set to be the largest equity investment by the 40-year-old former kindergarten teacher after she and her Singaporean husband’s HK$3.1 billion purchase of Jack Ma’s Alibaba Pictures in 2014 that helped them pocket tens of millions dollars of gains over the past two years.

Zhao has become a household name in China since the 1990s thanks to her hit drama My Fair Princess but it has not been until the past few years that her skyrocketing fortune propelled her into China’s ultra wealthy club.

Jointly named by Hurun Report as the 35th richest young billionaires , Zhao and her husband Huang Youlong are estimated to boast a net worth of US$1 billion, according to the ranking released in February.

Their wealth largely comes from their stakes in Ali Pictures, a filmmaker acquired by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba in 2014 for HK$10.4 billion.

In December 2014, the celebrity couple bought a 9.18 per cent stake in the then money-losing filmmaker. Only five months later, Ali Pictures shares skyrocketed more than 165 per cent, adding approximately 3.6 billion yuan to Zhao and her husband’s net worth.

Over the following two years, the actress cashed out more than two billion yuan of Ali Pictures, when it invested in a slew of blockbusters such as Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, and most recently Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s comedy See You Tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Zhao and her family hold key stakes in three other Hong Kong-listed firms and one trading in Shenzhen, ranging from a golf club maker, financial services firm, to studio and packaging products manufacturer, according to company records compiled by the South China Morning Post.

With all the shares they own, their net worth easily surpassed nine billion yuan, Post calculations showed.

“The new controlling shareholder is very optimistic about the prospects of the entertainment industry,” Zhejiang People Culture said in a statement on Monday.

After suffering from a steep loss of 22.6 million yuan for 2014, the former property developer ventured into mobile gaming and animated content production for survival. It reversed fortunes in 2015, booking a net profit of 19.9 million yuan.

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Born in the central inland city of Wuhu, Zhao left her job as a kindergarten teacher to attend a film academy in Shanghai, before she rose to national fame overnight for her role as Xiaoyanzi in My Fair Princess, which eventually won her A Golden Eagle Award for Best Actress – China’s answer to Emmy Awards.

In 2013, her directorial debut So Young, which she also financed, turned into a box office success, grossing more than US$118 million with a US$5 million budget.

Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

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