- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2011

HONG KONG (AP) - The production house behind hits like “The Dark Knight,” “Inception” and the two “Hangover” installments has partnered with a leading studio in China as it deepens its reach in one of Hollywood’s increasingly lucrative markets.

Legendary Entertainment said in a statement on Thursday that it has set up a new unit that will co-produce movies with Huayi Brothers Media Corp.

Legendary’s Hong Kong-based subsidiary, Legendary East, plans to make one or two “major, event-style films” a year starting in 2013.

The partnership allows Legendary Entertainment to bypass Chinese import restrictions that effectively limit the country to about 20 foreign blockbusters a year.

Recent releases by the Beijing-based Huayi Brothers include the hit Feng Xiaogang disaster epic “Aftershock,” the kung fu drama “Shaolin” and the Tsui Hark fantasy epic “Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame.” Its films accounted for 17 percent of the Chinese box office in 2010.

The deal comes after Legendary Entertainment sold a 3.3 percent stake to Chinese studio Orange Sky Golden Harvest in September for $25 million. Orange Sky is the product of Chinese businessman Wu Kebo’s 2007 takeover of storied Hong Kong studio Golden Harvest, which counted Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and John Woo among its roster. The Beijing-based company’s recent investments include Woo’s two-part historical epic “Red Cliff” and the action thriller “Storm Warriors.” It also runs multiplexes in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.

Orange Sky Chief Executive Kelvin Wu will serve as chief executive of Legendary East.

Chinese box office takings surged 64 percent to $1.5 billion in 2010. The James Cameron 3-D sci-fi epic was the biggest hit with a total take of $204 million.

More recently, Chinese box office receipts helped boost the international take of “Kung Fu Panda 2.” The animation comedy opened in IMAX format in 22 Chinese theaters on May 28, earning just over $300,000 on that day alone.





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