Burbank production house sells stake to Chinese studio

The Hollywood production house behind hits including "Clash of the Titans" and "Inception" has sold a 3.3 percent stake to a Chinese studio for $25 million, as American filmmakers strike partnerships that help them tap an increasingly lucrative foreign market.

China's Orange Sky Golden Harvest Entertainment (Holdings) Ltd. announced the deal with Burbank, California-based Legendary Pictures in a statement sent Monday to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, where the Chinese studio is listed. The investment allows Orange Sky to appoint one of Legendary Pictures' six directors.

In a separate agreement, the two companies said they will jointly develop Chinese-language films, as well as online, mobile and video games. They also agreed to work together on film distribution in China. Sino-U.S. co-productions are exempt from China's movie quota that effectively limits the country to 20 foreign-funded blockbusters a year.

Despite import restrictions, China is fast becoming a major overseas market for Hollywood filmmakers. Chinese revenues accounted for $204 million of the $2.8 billion global take for James Cameron's recent hit 3-D sci-fi epic "Avatar."

The Chinese box office surged 86 percent to $714 million in the first half of the year, lifted by the stunning success of "Avatar" and other popular American imports, along with a boom in the number of screens and rising disposable incomes in major cities. The final year-end box office take is expected to hit $1.5 billion. China's 2009 box office take was $909 million.

Founded in 2004, Legendary Pictures' other credits include "Batman Begins," "The Dark Knight," "Superman Returns," "300" and "The Hangover."

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 reported a first-half profit of 25.5 million Hong Kong dollars ($3.3 million) - a tripling from the previous year.

Orange Sky shares jumped 1.6 percent to a midday close of HK$0.62, but finished the day unchanged at HK$0.6.

© 2010 The Associated Press.

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