Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man, savored his latest entertainment triumph this week with the announcement of a $3.5 billion deal to take over a Hollywood blockbuster movie studio.
Acquiring Legendary Entertainment puts Wang Jianlin and his conglomerate, the Dalian Wanda Group, a step closer to the ultimate goal; a movie empire underpinning a globally recognised, household name to rival Google, Apple or Microsoft.
Under President Xi Jinping, China is broadening its use of so-called soft power, and – through skyscrapers, soccer and movies – Wang, a former People’s Liberation Army officer, is on the front line.
“It’s entirely possible in the future that we’ll hold an even bigger ceremony, to announce we bought an even bigger entertainment group”, Wang told reporters this week.
Wang’s rise to prominence has required a mix of political and commercial savvy.
The son of a Long March veteran, he started his business life in the northeastern city of Dalian, where his company grew to become the country’s largest property developer.
Wanda group is also the world’s biggest commercial properties developer, with a Hong Kong listed company that controls 125 commercial shopping malls, along with 81 hotels.
The group reported total revenue increased 19 percent in 2015 to $44 billion.
“Remain close to government, and away from politics,” Wang, 61, told Reuters News in a 2014 interview.
Deal with the authorities, he said, referring to the Communist Party; and the government, less with individuals.
Over the last two years, Beijing has pledged tens of billions of dollars to boost its image abroad, funding a slew of international development, trade and investment initiatives, led by a $50 billion commitment to fund the newly established Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Capturing hearts and minds through film distribution and production, is Wanda, the world’s biggest motion picture theater company, with 6,600 cinema screens on three continents, including more than 2,200 in China.
In 2012, Wang spent $2.6 billion to buy AMC Entertainment Holdings in the United States, and last year bought Australian cinema operator Hoyts Group.
Dalian Wanda’s acquisition of Legendary Pictures is “certainly symbolic”, said Chen Shaofeng, Vice Dean of Peking University’s Institute for Cultural Industries.
Schuyler Moore, a Hollywood-based entertainment attorney who has represented the China Film Group and other Chinese companies that have financed Hollywood content, said Wanda’s acquisition was likely “a precursor” to a bigger deal.
“This is going to be a big year”, Moore said. (NAN)