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Academy Awards

Here’s why China has a lot staked on these two best-picture Oscar contenders

‘Phantom Thread’ and Darkest Hour’ were bankrolled by Beijing-based Perfect World Co, and victory would give the producer a huge boost 

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 9:20am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 March, 2018, 9:19am

Chinese film investors have more riding on the Academy Awards than usual this Sunday: two nominees for best picture.

“Darkest Hour” and “Phantom Thread,” candidates for the top honour, are financed by Beijing-based Perfect World Co through a US$500 million deal with Universal Pictures. The two films are shortlisted for a total of 12 awards in nine categories.

The nominations show investment from the country is still flowing, even after China’s crackdown last year on aggressive deal makers like Dalian Wanda Group Co abruptly ended the splurge. An Academy Award can give a film producer marketable cachet in backing new movies and promote wider, longer distribution in China.

While Chinese companies like Wanda have had their entertainment ambitions derailed, a win would reinforce “Perfect World’s reputation as a company worth paying attention to,” said Stanley Rosen, a University of Southern California political science professor who studies the relationship between the mainland and the US film industry.

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“Darkest Hour”, a Winston Churchill biopic,  and “Phantom Thread,” a drama set in London’s 1950s couture world, are long shots for the best-picture honour, based on surveys conducted by awards tracking website GoldDerby and odds at bookmaker Ladbrokes PLC. “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “The Shape of Water” are the top contenders, the surveys show.

Gary Oldman, who portrays Churchill in “Darkest Hour” is the front-runner for the best-actor award, but he is “unlikely to thank Perfect World” from the podium, Rosen said.

Perfect World, which also makes video games, won’t be the only Chinese financier crossing its fingers on Sunday. Adapted screenplay nominee “Molly’s Game” was financed by Huayi Brothers Media Corp via a three-year pact with Tencent Holdings Ltd-backed STX Entertainment.

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TIK Films, a subsidiary of local government-controlled broadcaster Hunan TV, came tantalisingly close last year to winning the biggest prize as one of half a dozen backers of “La La Land,” which scooped up six Academy Awards but not the best-picture honour. TIK Films is a slate financier, not involved in production.

Films actually produced by Chinese have won top awards from Berlin to Cannes. Still, Oscar success has been elusive, even in the best foreign-language film category, with only two nominations and no wins. The government film agency failed to win a nomination for this year’s foreign language film award after selecting the box-office record setting “Wolf Warrior 2” as the country’s entry.