Disney announces film production in China

The Walt Disney Co. on Wednesday announced its first film production in China, adding to its efforts to break into the booming Chinese entertainment market. The Chinese-language film, "The Secret of the Magic Gourd," began shooting in October in the eastern city of Hangzhou and is due to be released next year, Disney said. It is based on a popular children's book by the late Chinese novelist Zhang Tianyi.

Disney's partners are state-owned China Film Group Corp. and Hong Kong's Centro Digital Pictures, Ltd., a special effects house best known for its work on director Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill." Disney has opened Disney-brand stores in several mainland Chinese cities and is reportedly in talks on setting up a Shanghai theme park and a television channel. But its film offerings to mainland audiences have been mostly imported U.S. productions.

"It's a perfect time for Disney to bring its wholesome family entertainment expertise to this rapidly growing market as part of The Walt Disney Co.'s focus on expanding our presence in China," Dick Cook, chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, said in a prepared statement. The company didn't release the film's budget. Foreign film and television distributors are eager to expand in China, but face regulatory obstacles.

China's state-owned film distributor frequently releases foreign titles at awkward times and limits the length of time they are shown in order to minimize competition with China's own film industry. Chinese studios have tried without success to create franchise characters that can match the success of Mickey Mouse and other Disney icons with Chinese children.

Chinese regulators also are especially sensitive to entertainment aimed at children, insisting that most cartoons on state television be domestically made.

An official of China's main TV regulator said in June that Beijing might further reduce the amount of foreign cartoons that broadcasters can show once Chinese producers can meet demand, reports the AP. I.L.

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