Mon, Jan 09, 2012 - Page 11 News List

FEATURE: Taiwanese wizards of information technology are turning to the movies

By Benjamin Yeh  /  AFP, TAIPEI

Maxima Capital Management chairman and CEO Max Fang poses on Nov. 11 last year in front of a billboard for The Soul of Bread, one of the two films jointly invested by a fund he operates, during an interview in Taipei.

Photo: AFP / PATRICK LIN

As a long career devoted to Taiwan’s technology sector draws to a close, Maxima Capital Management Inc (麥實國際管顧) chairman Max Fang (方國健) has turned to an entirely new task — helping to build a globally competitive film industry in Taiwan.

To this end, the 60-year-old Fang has launched a venture capital fund, much as he would do if he were to pour money into new information technology (IT) start-ups, but solely meant for movie and TV projects.

“Our eventual goal is to build a Chinese Hollywood,” Fang said of the TC-1 Culture Fund in a recent interview.

The fund is bolstered not just by NT$270 million (US$9 million) in capital, but by a comprehensive vision for where Taiwan’s economy should be heading.

Taiwan has been very successful in the technology industry, but as competition from other tech-savvy societies heats up, it is time to start thinking about new ways to prosper, said Fang, former head of Asia-Pacific procurement for Dell Inc. And he has some ideas how.

“Taiwan has become the hub of the Chinese-language entertainment industry. That position is entrenched and hard to challenge,” Fang said. “And as China gradually becomes richer, there will be rapid growth in the demand for films, TV shows and musical programs. That’s already a clear trend emerging on the mainland.”

Fang’s idea has caught on, and investors in his fund include former United Microelectronics Corp (聯電) chairman John Hsuan (宣明智) and Acer Inc (宏碁) founder Stan Shih (施振榮).

The fund reflects long-term changes in Taiwan’s economy, as the nation, which left agriculture behind decades ago to take up manufacturing and then moved to technological innovation, might become a center for creative industries.

Taiwan is especially strong in the field of popular music and has massive influence in China and Chinese-speaking communities throughout Southeast Asia.

Heartthrob Jay Chou (周杰倫), to mention just one example, is as hot in the region as Justin Bieber is in the West.

Another growth industry is TV programming, but is in the movies — where the nation is experiencing a renaissance with titles such as historical epic Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (彩虹戰士:賽德克巴萊)— that Fang hopes for a big breakthrough.

The fund, which was launched in late 2010, has invested about NT$40 million in two Taiwanese-Chinese co-productions premiering this month — The Soul of Bread (愛的麵包魂) and Perfect Two (新天生一對).

Fang said he has especially high hopes for The Soul of Bread, starring rising star Michelle Chen (陳妍希) as a Taiwanese woman pursued simultaneously by a local baker and a French gourmet.

“We did not expect Michelle Chen to become so popular before shooting the film,” he said.

Fang’s venture is part of a broader trend, with about 20 similar Taiwanese funds earmarked for investment in the culture industry, each capitalized at NT$200 million or more.

Movie analyst Liang Liang (梁良) said Taiwan’s movie industry has never been in a better position to win over the Chinese market, now one of the top five markets in the world.

“Hong Kong’s movie makers have switched their focus to the mainland in the past few years and, while they jointly produced movies with Chinese partners, they have chosen to set certain restrictions on themselves,” he said. “However, Taiwan-produced movies are taking their own distinctive route, describing the free lifestyle of the people on the island.”

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