Yet another boxing movie packed with punches and clichés hits American theaters this weekend. Antoine Fuqua’s Southpaw, starring a thick, veiny Jake Gyllenhaal, has a story we’ve heard before: A hardened man with a loyal woman spins out of control and has to fight for redemption for a chance to be with his daughter. But the story of how this film got made is anything but cookie-cutter.
The production’s estimated $30 million budget was provided by Wanda Pictures, owned by China’s richest man, the real-estate tycoon Wang Jianlin. He is worth an estimated $34 billion. As Bloomberg notes, this would appear to make Southpaw the first American movie to be financed solely by a Chinese company, which is precisely the claim (link in Chinese) made by Dalian Wanda Group, the conglomerate that owns Wanda Pictures.
The arrangement is a sign of the widening collaboration between Chinese business and Hollywood. In terms of actually producing content, Southpaw puts Wanda ahead of Chinese internet giants Baidu, Tencent, and Alibaba, all of which are making rapid headway into the film industry, at home and abroad. And the interest flows in both directions. Hollywood is eager to court Chinese ticket-buyers, which should come as no surprise: US box office sales are stagnating, while Chinese box office revenue is expected to surpass the US’s by 2018.
Wang’s obsession with movies has been well-documented: In late 2012 he bought AMC, the second-largest American movie theater chain, which then went public in late 2013. That same year he announced he would invest $8.3 billion to build the Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis, a 3.7-million-square-meter complex that will include, among other things, a film studio, theme park, and IMAX research center. Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicole Kidman attended the launch ceremony.
Hollywood’s coveting of Chinese consumers is not without its obstacles. For one thing, China sets a quota of 34 foreign films that can show in theaters each year. (The quota is expected to increase by 10 movies in 2017 for art-house and Oscar-winners.) It’s not clear whether the yuan that flow through Southpaw means it can be counted as a “Chinese” film and would therefore be exempt from the quota, but if so, this kind of partnership could be a major inroad for Hollywood, hinting at many similar collaborations to come.