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May 28, 2017

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China goes Hollywood with 'The Great Wall'

NEW YORK -- Big Hollywood hits commonly reap half or more of their box office overseas, as "Finding Dory" and "Rogue One" have done. Zhang Yimou's "The Great Wall," which opens Friday, will test whether that trick works both ways.

"The Great Wall," a mostly English-language film with a Chinese director, crew and cast, stars Matt Damon as a European mercenary who finds himself caught in a battle between a Chinese army of the Song dynasty (960-1279) and ravenous monsters on the other side of — you guessed it — the Great Wall of China.

The US$150 million production is already a blockbuster at home. It premiered in China in mid-December and has made more than US$225 million internationally. But there's still a lot riding on the film, which its backers hope will pave the way for future Chinese-made films designed to wow North American audiences.

"It's an interesting test case for how a film that originates in China, utilizes big name American stars and has a big budget, will play in North America," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at research firm comScore.

Whether is succeeds or fails is "no small thing" for those considering other films like "The Great Wall," Dergarabedian said. "You have to show a viability of these types of films that go from East to West rather West to East," he said.

Chinatown Meets Tinseltown

Chinese money has been flooding into Hollywood recently. From 2000 to 2016, Chinese direct investment in U.S. entertainment firms amounted to nearly US$9 billion, according to the Rhodium Group. Investment in 2016 more than doubled all investment in the previous 16 years combined.

That's mainly due to one Chinese company — conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group — which bought the Hollywood studio Legendary Entertainment, known for the "Dark Knight" film franchise, for $3.5 billion. Legendary is the studio behind "The Great Wall." The same group bought movie-theater chain AMC in 2012.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros., DreamWorks Animation and Universal have linked up with state-owned enterprises and private companies such as electronics maker LeEco and internet giants Alibaba and Tencent.

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