China’s Huace Pictures this week unveiled its upcoming film lineup, which includes a new project from young arthouse filmmaker Bi Gan (“Kaili Blues”) and sequels to its Chinese New Year hit “A Writer’s Odyssey.”
Founded in 2014, Huace Pictures is the newer outgrowth of Shenzhen-listed, Hangzhou-headquartered Zhejiang Huace Film and TV, founded in 2005. The latter has historically been a strong player in China’s TV drama production, but the group hopes to boost its footprint in film.
To that end, it unveiled on Tuesday a new logo for Huace Pictures, and announced the goal of producing 30 films over the next three years that can collectively bring in $1.5 billion (RMB10 billion) or more at the box office. It also released a list of 16 upcoming films that it plans to produce or distribute this year.
Fu Binxing, Huace Pictures chairman and VP of Huace Film and TV Group, said the company seeks titles that “innovate in their expression or their use of technology.” “We are always looking for films that balance between art and commerce, innovation and market savvy,” he added.
Zhao Yifang, founder and president of Huace Film and TV, said the firm was working hard to create “good films that have both ‘commercial value’ and [exhibit] ‘Chinese power.’”
To that end, Huace Pictures hopes to strike a balance in its investments of 20% big-budget films that can be serialized or franchised, 70% low- and mid-budget commercial genre films, and 10% more experimental or arthouse titles that can help develop new directing talent.
Most profits for Chinese production firms come from ticket sales, given the country’s still-nascent market for film derivative products or theme park tie-ins. Like Wanda Films with its “Detective Chinatown” universe or Beijing Culture with its upcoming “Fengshen” trilogy, Huace has also entered the game of trying to establish an IP that can be built into a proper franchise.
Its shot in the race is to develop the world of its most ambitious film so far: director Lu Yang’s “A Writer’s Odyssey,” an adaptation of a popular novel from writer Shuang Xuetao that debuted on Feb. 12 and grossed $157 million locally. Lu and Shuang will team up once more for future installments. Huace Pictures has set up a new derivatives department, which has already developed some 30 products like apparel and figurines related to the IP.
“We’ve done a lot of work on the steps of early stage design, supply chain selection and quality control, and have established a set of management procedures that will serve not only for this project, but for other future works by helping us move step by step down this path towards [creating] derivatives,” Fu told a local news outlet.
Besides “A Writer’s Odyssey,” Huace is also backing the next film from Guizhou-based director Bi Gan, whose first feature “Kaili Blues” (2015) debuted to critical acclaim overseas, nabbing him the FIPRESCI prize and the best first feature award at Locarno. His second film, the Huace-backed “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” became an unexpected box office hit with sales of $43 million due to a slightly misleading marketing campaign. The title, cast and details of his next project have not yet been announced.
Another upcoming Huace project of note is “The Translator,” a new blockbuster produced by Guo Fan (“The Wandering Earth”) and directed by Rao Xiaozhi, whose thriller “A Cool Fish” became a 2018 dark horse hit. It tells the story of a foreign affairs officer who must oversee a seemingly impossible evacuation on the eve of the outbreak of an international war, with Guo explaining that the film seeks to depict how an ordinary person can be inspired by a sense of mission under extreme circumstances.
Huace is also at work on a film adaptation of the popular 2001 Hong Kong TVB drama “A Step Into the Past,” that will reunite the original cast, which included Louis Koo and Raymond Lam. It follows a security officer who goes back in time to the Warring States period and ends up being involved in the historic events leading up to the Qin dynasty, China’s first under unified rule.
Among its list of projects from new directing talent are two films from first-time helmer Li Gen, who the company discovered via a script shared by his Beijing Film Academy professor. The first, which translates to “If I Leave You One Day,” is told from the perspective of a Chinese student studying abroad. The second depicts an unlikely friendship between a man with a physical ailment and a man with a mental illness.
Beyond production, Huace will also be involved in distributing the fifth installment of Hong Kong’s Louis Koo-starrer series “Storm” and Japanese animation “Detective Conan: The Scarlet Bullet,” which will premiere in Japan this month after its 2020 release was pushed back by COVID-19.