Exclusive: Accidental mogul - China property billionaire's route to Hollywood

Thu Aug 25, 2016 8:37am EDT
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By Matthew Miller and Shu Zhang

BEIJING (Reuters) - Wang Jianlin, the billionaire Chinese property tycoon turned entertainment mogul, says his push into movies was entirely accidental.

"We didn't have a choice, we were forced into it," Wang, whose Dalian Wanda Group controls Hollywood studio Legendary Pictures and U.S. cinema chain AMC Entertainment Holdings (AMC.N: Quote), told Reuters in an exclusive interview this week.

In 2006, Dalian Wanda Group was looking for a partner to operate movie theaters at the massive shopping malls it was building around the country.

Wang first turned to Time Warner (TWX.N: Quote), but the U.S. media giant was forced to quit China because of foreign ownership restrictions. Shanghai Media Group, a state-owned conglomerate, abandoned a separate deal.

Today, Wanda is not only the world's biggest commercial property developer, with 149 signature Wanda Plazas in China, but also the largest cinema operator, controlling more than 13,000 screens on four continents once current deals are closed.

The acquisition in January of Legendary, co-producer of hits such as "Jurassic World" and "The Dark Knight", was the biggest U.S.-China movie deal to date and a step toward the Dalian Wanda chairman's ambition of becoming a major Hollywood player.

"Shanghai Media Group must really regret that they gave up such a good company that would have cost so little," said Wang, a former People's Liberation Army staff officer who took over a local construction firm 28 years ago and borrowed 1 million yuan to start building residential housing.


Wang Jianlin, chairman of the Wanda Group, speaks during an interview in Beijing, China, August 23, 2016. Picture taken August 23, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter