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HindustanTimes Fri,29 Aug 2014

Kidman, DiCaprio, Travolta add star-power to China's 'Hollywood'

AFP  Qingdao, China, September 22, 2013
First Published: 15:54 IST(22/9/2013) | Last Updated: 16:11 IST(22/9/2013)

Nicole Kidman, Leonardo DiCaprio and John Travolta on Sunday added their star power to the glitzy inauguration of the Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis, billed as China's answer to Hollywood.

China's richest man Wang Jianlin and his conglomerate Wanda Group have poured 50 billion yuan ($8.3 billion) into the sprawling complex in the city of Qingdao. Construction has already started but the complex will only be operational from 2016.

Wang told a lavish and star-studded ceremony the development was part of China's bid to ramp up its "cultural power" on the world stage and create a "Chinawood" that could one day rival Los Angeles as a global centre of film.

China's communist leaders have said  the country must make greater use of so-called "soft power" to promote the nation's values abroad.

But critics say censorship is  hampering the Chinese film industry's ability to compete with Hollywood, and even those films that get a strong reception in China have difficulties in cracking the bigger US market.

Sprawling across 376 hectares (900 acres) on the outskirts of the eastern port city famous for its "Tsingtao" beer, the "Movie Metropolis" will have 20 studios including what is billed as the world's largest.

It should produce "at least a hundred films a year", according to the Wanda Group, which says it has reached preliminary agreements to ensure that 30 foreign films will be shot there each year.

Local film stars such as Zhang Ziyi, Jet Li and Xu Zheng, who have themselves become international brands in their own right, were joined on the red carpet by some of the stars of Hollywood -- the institution Wang is looking at rivalling.

Kidman, dressed in black trousers and a cream jacket, was joined by fellow A-listers Catherine Zeta-Jones, Ewan McGregor and Christoph Waltz.

Cheryl Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) which organises the annual Oscars, also attended the gala, saying she was "very enthusiastic" that the complex could turn Qingdao into "an international centre of cinema".

Hawk Koch, the former president of AMPAS, told AFP the new development should increase cooperation between Chinese and international film industries.

"I don't think it's a competition  (with the Oscars), there is always room for great talents," he said. "I think Qingdao festival is a place where there will be more and more interaction" between actors and directors from the two sides of the Pacific, he added.

With 1.3 billion increasingly affluent people, China is also a major market for American film makers.

Last month Beijing and Hollywood resolved a row over tens of millions of dollars in owed local box office revenues.

State-owned China Film Group stopped  payment at the beginning of the year, when American studios took issue with a two percent value-added tax that the world's most populous nation was levying on US films.

The Chinese government eventually  backed down and agreed to pay the revenues in full. 

Earlier this month Forbes magazine named Wang Jianlin as China's richest man with an estimated fortune of $14 billion.

Wang's wealth comes mainly from commercial real estate, which has been less affected by a Chinese government crackdown on surging home prices.

But Wanda has a vast array of business interests ranging from commercial property to film production and is China's third largest cinema operator behind two state-owned giants.

Last year the conglomerate acquired US cinema chain AMC Entertainment for $2.6 billion, a sign of China's growing clout in the entertainment business.

Apart from the complex on display Sunday, the development will also feature a vast public space with a waxworks display, an exhibition centre including a 3,000-seat theatre and a shopping centre with seven hotels.

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