Asia's richest man to be first Chinese to control a Hollywood film company

BEIJING • Billionaire Wang Jianlin, Asia's richest man, is poised to become the first Chinese person to control a Hollywood film company after his flagship group agreed to buy the co-producer of last year's blockbuster Jurassic World for US$3.5 billion (S$5 billion) in cash.

His Dalian Wanda Group is a politically powerful property and entertainment company in China and Legendary Entertainment is one of Hollywood's biggest movie production companies.

The deal, announced in Beijing, is one of the biggest purchases of an American company by a Chinese company and marks China's largest overseas "cultural acquisition", according to a joint statement.

It paves the way for the creation of the world's biggest film company by revenue, Mr Wang said.

It deepens Wanda's investment in the global movie business, joining its cinema chains with a company that produces movies including the Dark Knight Batman trilogy.

The acquisition is the latest in a series of spectacular moves into the entertainment business by Mr Wang, a former soldier and a member of the Communist Party.

In 2012, Wanda purchased AMC Theatres, the second-largest American cinema chain, for US$2.6 billion and, in 2013, it began construction of a mammoth US$8.2 billion studio complex in eastern China, flying in stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio and John Travolta to mark the occasion.

Wanda said the purchase would help Legendary "increase its market opportunities" in China's movie market, where government censors block some films from entering and strict quotas limit the number of Hollywood films that can be shown each year. Wanda owns China's biggest cinema chain.

Mr Wang's backing gives Legendary, led by founder Thomas Tull, access to funds needed to churn out movies such as sequels to Pacific Rim (2013) and Godzilla (2014).

Mr Tull, who will remain chairman and chief executive officer of Legendary, has been seeking to expand in Asia with Legendary East and in 2013 signed an agreement with China Film Co. to jointly produce large-scale films for global audiences, such as The Great Wall, directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Matt Damon.

Relatives and business associates of four current or former members of the Communist Party's ruling Politburo, including the older sister and brother-in-law of President Xi Jinping, acquired stakes in two of Mr Wang's companies before share sales in late 2014 and early last year. They collectively owned shares that were worth more than US$1.5 billion in April of last year.

Mr Wang, speaking at Harvard University in October, said Mr Xi's relatives sold their stake before his flagship company's initial public offering in December 2014.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2016, with the headline 'Asia's richest man to be first Chinese to control a Hollywood film company'. Print Edition | Subscribe