September 24, 2013 7:59:05 AM
QINGDAO, China -- China's richest man plans to spend $8.2 billion to build the country's version of Hollywood in the northeastern city of Qingdao.
In a glitzy, star-studded red carpet event Sunday, Wang Jianlin said his company, Dalian Wanda Group, will build a state-of-the-art film studio complex in a bid to dominate China's rapidly growing movie market.
The Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis's 20 studios will include a permanent underwater studio and a 10,000 square-meter (108,000 square-feet) stage that Wang said would be the world's biggest. The facility will also include an Imax research and development center, cinemas and China's biggest film and celebrity wax museums. The first phase is planned to open in June 2016 and it will be fully operational by June 2017.
A yacht marina, eight hotels and a theme park will be built to attract tourists.
The company has signed a preliminary deal with "a number of global film and television giants and talent agencies" to shoot about 30 foreign films a year. It did not name the companies.
Wang also hopes to attract more than 50 Chinese production companies to make at least 100 domestic films and TV shows a year at the studios, where sets will simulate locations from Europe, the Middle East and China's Ming and Qing dynasties.
Dalian Wanda, which operates cinemas, hotels and department stores in China, last year bought the U.S. cinema chain AMC for $2.6 billion and snapped up British yacht maker Sunseeker in June this year.
The tycoon's red carpet event in Qingdao underlined his outsized ambitions for China's entertainment industry. Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Travolta and Leonardo DiCaprio rubbed elbows with Chinese stars including Zhang Ziyi, Jet Li and Tony Leung at the event in Qingdao, best known for Tsingtao Brewery founded when Germany colonized the city a century ago.
Wang's success in attracting the A-list actors to his launch, held the same day as the Emmy television awards show in Los Angeles, also highlights how the center of gravity in the global film industry is shifting to the East.
In an interview, Wang boasted of his plans to expand in China's movie market, which overtook Japan to become the world's second biggest after ticket sales rose 36 percent last year to $2.7 billion.
"There's no single company in the whole world that has a big-scale production base, and at the same time has screening and distribution channels. Wanda Group is the first one in the world," said Wang, Wanda's founder and chairman.
"As long as we build the film production park and produce better content, we'll certainly be the most successful company in this industry."
He predicted China's film market would become the world's biggest in five years, and compared it to a big cake that foreign studios would love to share.
Hollywood has been eager to expand distribution in China as domestic box office revenue stagnates. But the Chinese government tightly controls the market, allowing in only 34 foreign films per year for national distribution. At least 14 of them must be made in 3-D or for the big-screen Imax format.
Wang was named China's richest person earlier this month with a fortune of $22 billion by the Hurun Report, which follows China's wealthy. Forbes also said Wang rose to the top spot on its China rich list, with his estimated fortune rising to $14 billion.