The Chinese are coming — to your local movie theatre. With the fanfare from Superman, and toasts of red wine, representatives of Chinese company Wanda signed a deal in Beijing Monday to buy AMC, the second-largest theatre chain in the USA.If approved by U.S. and Chinese regulators, the $2.6 billion acquisition would create the world’s largest theatre group, the companies said. The move, China’s biggest corporate takeover to date in the U.S., highlights the rising financial strength of its top firms.
Both partners stressed they plan no changes to the AMC brand, management and day-to-day operations. For the U.S. movie-goer, the AMC experience will change “not at all,” insisted Gerry Lopez, CEO of AMC, except for an increase in renovations to upgrade some theatres.
“We have no plan whatsoever to promote Chinese movies in the U.S. market,” said Wang Jianlin, chairman and president of Wanda.
A Communist Party member who sits on his nation’s top advisory council — and one of the richest people in China — Wang acknowledged that poor content was a major reason for the lack of Chinese movie success overseas. “If China has (a movie like) Avatar, it may really ‘go abroad,’ right?” he said.
A string of Hollywood blockbusters in recent months has lifted AMC into profit this year, Lopez said. The company, headquartered in Kansas City, has more than 18,000 employees.
China’s movie market, the second-largest after the USA, is growing fast through expansion of theatre chains such as Wanda’s, often located in the upscale mall and hotel properties it owns.
But the movie business here also reflects the central contradictions of modern China, where the film world’s standard glamor and deal-making must accommodate a ruling Communist Party that tightly controls what its citizens can watch.
Among those giving congratulatory speeches Monday was a deputy minister of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. SARFT forms a key part of the machinery of state cultural control that limits the number of Hollywood films imported each year, and censors all film scripts before movies are shot within China.
Beijing is investing heavily in projecting its “soft power,” or cultural influence, by boosting Chinese state media’s presence abroad, including the USA, where the Chinese government has also run advertisements in New York’s Times Square.
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