On the eve of the second annual Beijing International Film Festival on Sunday night, some 200 movie industry movers and shakers — many from Hollywood — piled into the trendy d Lounge in the Chinese capital, washing back petit fours and hors d'oeuvres with champagne under the vaulted brick ceilings.
The party was hosted by Rob Minkoff — director of the Academy Award-winning “The Lion King” — and as he and producing partner Pietro Ventani circulated among the guests, Minkoff reflected on how much has changed in China since he first came to Beijing in 1997.
At the time Ventani was helping the Walt Disney Co. set up its China offices and he invited Minkoff for a visit. At that time, there were just a few construction cranes on Chang An Avenue, the capital’s main East-West drag, and few other signs of the city’s future.
Minkoff remembers scoffing when Ventani predicted a boom was coming. Of course, now he’s a believer. He filmed his 2008 Jackie Chan-Jet Li movie “The Forbidden Kingdom” here and marvels at glass-and-steel capital that began emerging that year, when the city hosted the Summer Olympics.
“Like Paris in the 1920s, Beijing is having its world moment right now. If you’re in the movies and you haven’t been to Beijing, you’re kind of missing where things are really happening,” said Minkoff. He himself has another China project in the works — a film called “Chinese Odyssey,” though he declined to give a status report on the project, which has been gestating for some time.
Among those at the Minkoff bash ahead of the six-day, state-run festival were “Superman Returns” producer and former Columbia/Tristar Pictures head Christopher Lee, former Creative Artists Agency China chief Peter Loehr, and “Transformers” and “X-Men” writer and producer Tom DeSanto.
Lee says he sees parallels between the Beijing of today and not Paris but Los Angeles as U.S. studios make a flurry of partnership announcements and jockey for position as the Chinese market takes off. (DreamWorks Animation said in February it would partner with two state-run media companies to build a new studio in Shanghai; Disney announced this month that it would partner with an animation arm of China's Ministry of Culture and China's largest Internet company, Tencent Holdings Ltd.; Disney also said last week that it would make "Iron-Man 3" a co-production with Beijing-based DMG Entertainment.)
It's anyone's guess as to which partnerships here will become dominant in what's projected to be the world's largest movie market in the world in the coming years.
"China is like Hollywood in the 1920s,” Lee said. “We’re all wondering which one of these big Chinese and China joint-venture companies forming is going to have the right a management. How else will China find its way?”
Also mingling Sunday night were USC Film School professor and longtime Woody Allen producer Michael Peyser, Christopher Bremble, chief executive of Beijing-based visual effects studio BaseFX; Aaron Shershow, unit production manager on Keanu Reeves’ upcoming directoral effort “The Man of Tai Chi,” now filming in China; and “Karate Kid” casting director Po-ping Au-Yeung. Also present were Alan Chu, head of film development at DMG Entertainment, and David Lee, producer of the Kevin Spacey-Daniel Wu film “Inseparable” due May 4 in China.
Independent film sales veteran Michael Werner also joined the fete, as did Pete Rive, chair of Film Auckland, and a few rising Chinese industry creative types who’ve shown bilingual crossover skills, including writer-directors Chen Daming (the Chinese remake of “What Women Want”) and Eva Jin (“Sophie’s Revenge”) to the actresses Crystal Liu (co-star of Minkoff’s “The Forbidden Kingdom”) and Zhu Zhu (who appears in Daniel Hsia’s forthcoming “Shanghai Calling”).
Minkoff, whose wife is Chinese-American, bought a Beijing apartment in 2005 sight unseen at the recommendation of his future brother-in-law. If Sunday’s soiree is any indication, he may soon have more expat Hollywood neighbors.
“I thought I was buying as an investment, but I’ve never rented it,” Minkoff said. “I’m staying in it tonight. It’s like a second home.”
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Full L.A. Times coverage of the China-Hollywood connection
— Jonathan Landreth in Beijing
Photo: Jackie Chan with director Rob Minkoff in 2008, when their film "The Forbidden Kingdom" was released. Credit: Toshifumi Kitamura / AFP / Getty Images.