EXCLUSIVE: As Hollywood continues to learn the ropes in China, I’m hearing that there are a host of big management shifts coming at the upper echelons of the Chinese film business. There have been rumors for some time that China Film Group senior management would change or retire this year, and I’m now told that some moves have been made, while others could be imminent. The biggest involves influential Chinese executive Han Sanping. I’ve heard that a decision for him to step down as chairman of China Film Group was made around New Year’s Day. The state-owned CFG essentially controls distribution in China and is the key to getting foreign movies into the country since it alone has the right to import them. It is also the biggest producer of local films and co-productions. In his role as chairman of CFG, Han has been referred to as the “gatekeeper” between Hollywood and China. (China film industry expert Robert Cain once wrote of him, “If you took Jack Valenti, Lew Wasserman, and Steven Spielberg and rolled them into one, you’d begin to get an idea of Han’s power and influence in China.”) At age 60, it’s understood he’s been eyeing a move. This is not an ousting, I’m told. Rather, I hear Han will go on to run a large film fund and stay aboard CFG as a consultant. Sources say there is also new leadership to come at Huaxia Film Distribution, the China Film Company, and CCTV.
It must be remembered that this is China, where it can be ornery to read the signs. However, I have heard three names floated as replacements for Han. They include China Film Group exec Zhao Hai Cheng; deputy director of the State Administration of Film, La Pei-kang; and CFG vice president Zhang Qiang (he of the stolen luggage in Cannes last year). I hear an official announcement could come as early as this week or could be held until the Chinese New Year which begins at the end of January.
I’m told the Chinese often make group changes like this, but there are conflicting views in Hollywood as to what impact these will have. Han notably made the rounds of LA in mid-2012, accompanied by DMG Entertainment’s Dan Mintz and a CFG delegation, and his influence is expected to still be felt in terms of Hollywood-China relations. He’s nurtured a lot of talent and has a long list of executive producer credits including 2006′s Mission: Impossible III, 2010′s Karate Kid remake, Tsui Hark’s The Flying Swords Of Dragon Gate and Stephen Chow’s 2013 blockbuster Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons. He also directed propaganda pic The Founding Of A Republic and is listed as a producer on The Weinstein Co’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel. Companies like DMG and Huayi Brothers have deep enough ties across the major film authorities that they may have an easier time adjusting to new execs as opposed to entities that have been solely focused on cozying up to Han. But another person says Han “has been largely a figurehead for more than a year now and really wasn’t part of any of the major policymaking.” The person adds that “everyone knows” the folks who are being floated as possible replacements. Another opines, “I can’t see it changing anything dramatic.” I’m told, however, that things will be changing inside CFG with a board making decisions, rather than the final word being held by the chairman as was the case with Han. A U.S. exec believes decisions by committee could benefit Hollywood. Han is considered a visionary and very well respected in the U.S., but this person notes, “If he didn’t like something, that’s it, you were done.”