A US office, producer and second feature are all under way from Mili Pictures, whose President is Film Auckland chair Pete Rive. The two year old company is close to completing work on its debut animated feature, Dragon Nest aka Dragon Nest: Rise of the Black Dragon, developed from the big-in-China videogame of the same name. Mili curently intends to premiere the feature at China Joy on 31 July, making the date the third announced release date for the title so far. (China Jou is the country’s biggest videogame convention.)
Mili has its studios in Wuhan and Suzhou, which this week’s press release credits as being “85 kilometers east of Shanghai” or out in the East China Sea en route for southern Japan. Last year Mili announced plans to build a Sino-NZ Co-production Film Park in Wuhan and an MOU with Film Auckland to be part of Auckland Council’s Wynyard Quarter Innovation Precinct.
Mili showed unfinished footage of Dragon Nest at Hong Kong’s FILMART earlier this year, where the title was being marketed by All Rights Entertainment.
Jack Zhang, Mili’s chair, observed, “While some other companies are exploring the strategy of releasing big-budget movies in the China market, we feel there is even more potential in making family entertainment at a reasonable cost that can travel all over the world.”
The approach is one other Chinese companies have also tried. Since young kids and subtitles don’t mix, that flaw in the plan has sunk more a few attempts by other Chinese animation companies to make a dent in the international market. Dragon Nest will be available in Putonghua and English-language versions.
In Cannes this week, Mili has announced a new Los Angeles office, headed by producer Bill Borden (Kung Fu Hustle, Mission: Impossible 3 and High School Musical). The Chinese adaptation of the latter franchise was one of Disney’s least successful attempts at exporting US culture.
Mili has brought on High School Musical writer Peter Barsocchini for its next feature, Ping Pong Rabbit, which will be directed by Oscar nominee Mike Johnson (co-director of Corpse Bride with Tim Burton).
The full MILI PICTURES release follows:
CANNES/LOS ANGELES/SHANGHAI – May 17th 2014 – Mili Pictures Worldwide, a new animation company based in China, opened its Los Angeles office earlier this month, a sign of the studio’s ambition to marry Hollywood filmmaking magic with the high artistic skill and low costs available in China.
The office is led by producer Bill Borden, one of Hollywood’s most experienced, successful, and versatile producers, with credits such as the “High School Musical” series, and films ranging in budget and style from Stephen Chow’s “Kung Fu Hustle” to “Mission: Impossible 3” to Spike Lee’s “Get On the Bus”.
Mili will premiere its maiden production, “Dragon Nest”, in China on July 31 at China’s biggest video gaming convention, China Joy. “Dragon Nest” is a grand adventure tale based on the hugely popular online game. “Dragon Nest”, the game, has 100 million registered users and 6 million daily users in Asia alone.
Mili also announced that its next production, the family-friendly comedy “Ping Pong Rabbit” has begun pre-production in Los Angeles, under the direction of Oscar nominee Mike Johnson (co-director of “Corpse Bride” with Tim Burton). Johnson is guiding a team of top animation specialists with experience on hits from Disney, Dreamworks, Pixar and Fox. The production will move into the animation process in China in the fall, and is slated for release in early 2016.
The film is scripted by “High School Musical” writer Peter Barsocchini.
“I’m incredibly excited to be working with the young team at Mili, which has big ambitions backed by great artists and strong resources,” said Borden. “I saw their animation for ‘Dragon Nest’ and was blown away by the artistic quality. When I heard how low the budget was, I was blown away again. I saw huge potential to do great work here.”
Jack Zhang, chairman of Mili, said, “we’re thrilled to have Bill on board, and with the opening our our Los Angeles office, Mili is showing it’s serious about collaborating with the best talent in the world film industry.”
“While some other companies are exploring the strategy of releasing big-budget movies in the China market, we feel there is even more potential in making family entertainment at a reasonable cost that can travel all over the world,” Zhang added. “With the stunning quality of Mili’s animation and Hollywood experience in storytelling, we think Mili offers something very special.”
Mili (which means “one grain of rice” in Chinese) was formed two years ago when a group of animators who had been working together in Shanghai for several years on commercials, short films, and theme park rides, found backing from Shanda Games Ltd., the biggest online game operator in China. (Shanda is listed on the NASDAQ, with the symbol GAME.) Collaboration with Shanda continues to give Mili access for film adaptation to some of the most popular game properties in the world.
Shanda brought the game “Dragon Nest” to Mili, and Mili’s first feature film was born. “Dragon Nest” is directed by Song Yuefeng, making his directing debut. Song is one of China’s leading animation directors. His short films have won multiple awards and he has shown his work at the Shanghai Museum of Art and at European festivals. Ran Zhuo, also making her feature debut, wrote the script.
Mili has also attracted financial backing from some of China’s top venture capital firms, such as China’s number one fund, Shenzhen Capital Group, and the well-known Ivy Capital.
Mili has its headquarters in Shanghai, with production offices based in Suzhou, China (85 kilometers east of Shanghai). Mili also has offices in Auckland, New Zealand, creating alliances with leading New Zealand special effects houses.
Distribution rights outside of China for “Dragon Nest” are for sale in Cannes and being handled by All Rights Entertainment Ltd.