China's Wanda and Sony Pictures enter film partnership

Billionaire Wang Jianlin, owner of Wanda.
Billionaire Wang Jianlin, owner of Wanda. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese conglomerate Wanda announced plans on Friday (Sept 23) to invest in movies produced by Sony Pictures under an agreement that moves the company closer to its goal of becoming a major Hollywood player.

Owned by one of the country's richest men, billionaire Wang Jianlin, Wanda is seeking to shift its focus from property to services and entertainment as profits wane in China's real estate sector.

The movie deal, Wanda's first with one of Hollywood's so-called "Big Six" studios, is a major milestone for the conglomerate as it attempts to transform itself into a heavy-hitter in the global entertainment industry.

"The alliance will help strengthen Wanda's power to influence the global film industry, and set a good precedent for Chinese film producers in their international investment," the company said in a statement.

The company added that it would "strive to highlight the China element in the films in which it invests", but did not provide further details.

Wanda has expanded aggressively overseas, snapping up a string of assets in Europe and the United States in recent years.

In January, the company acquired US production company Legendary Entertainment for US$3.5 billion (S$45.3 billion). Wanda's founder Wang also financed the movie Spotlight, which won the Oscar for best picture this year.

The company has also pursued numerous deals in the international sports arena, including the acquisition of the Iron Man triathalon, but Wang has made it clear he has his sights set on Hollywood.

"He has the whole Hollywood in his mind. Maybe his next step is to work hand-in-hand with all the Big Six," Friday's statement said.

In July, Wanda was reportedly in talks to buy a stake in another "Big Six" US film studio Paramount Pictures.

The company's buying spree extends to brick and mortar investments: It bought US movie theatre chain AMC in 2012 for US$2.6 billion, which in turn acquired the London-based Odeon & UCI cinema group in a deal worth around US$1.2 billion.

Wanda also has a partnership agreement with North American entertainment giant IMAX Corp. to open cinemas in China.

In May it launched operations at its first theme park - a US$3.4 billion project in Nanchang - in a bid to compete with "big six" studio Disney, which opened its own US$5.5 billion resort a month later, its first in mainland China.

Wanda's Hollywood ambitions have raised eyebrows in the US, trade magazine Variety reported, where lawmakers last week warned that Mr Wang, who has close ties to the Chinese government, may be seeking to exert "propaganda controls on American media".