China's Fosun Bets on New Movie Technology

  • ‘Billy Lynn’ touts highest frame rate, five times standard
  • China distributor says film starts a ‘cinematic revolution’

Fosun Group, the Chinese conglomerate that owns Club Med and Cirque du Soleil, is betting on new technology to boost its foray into the feature film industry, backing a Studio 8 Iraq war movie to be shown at five times the standard frame rate.

Filmed at 120 frames-per-second, the $48 million “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” is set to open Friday in five specially equipped cinemas in Beijing, Shanghai, New York, Los Angeles and Taipei. The theaters will use 4K and 3D projection gear to bring the industry’s highest-resolution, a premium viewing experience strategy that helped the 2009 film “Avatar” become the biggest grossing movie on record.

Fosun in 2014 bought a 48 percent stake in Studio 8, founded by former Warner Bros. Pictures President Jeff Robinov. The insurance, real estate and pharmaceutical group also owns part of Bona Film Group, which co-produced and is distributing “Billy Lynn” in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

"This is a cinematic revolution,”  Bona Film Chief Executive Officer Yu Dong said Nov. 6 at a briefing on the film’s planned debut. He compared the film’s potential to “Avatar’s” run in IMAX theaters, the large-format cinema that demands higher ticket prices.

Read more: China’s movie boom starting to sag

Director James Cameron’s science fiction adventure “Avatar” was released at about 28,000 cinemas in China, including 12 IMAX screens. The large-format IMAX screens brought in 1.2 billion yuan of the movie’s 1.3 billion yuan in total China ticket sales, according to Yu. He said he hopes “Billy Lynn” will also bring in 100 million yuan ($15 million) per screen.

Tickets for the 120 fps version of "Billy Lynn" in 3D and 4K will sell for between 200 yuan and 300 yuan ($30 and $44), four to six times the average price for a conventional movie. Seven other cinemas across the country will present a 3D, 2K version of the film at 120fps on equipment developed by Dolby Laboratories Inc. The movie will also be shown elsewhere at frame rates such as 60fps and in the global standard, 24fps.

A higher frame rate packs more images onto the screen per second, making motion look smoother and more natural and giving 3D effects a more lifelike appearance.

Prior to “Billy Lynn” the highest frame-rate major feature film was 2012’s "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," which was shot in 48 fps.

Oscar-winning Director Ang Lee’s film tells the story of Billy Lynn, a U.S. infantryman, who is brought home for a “victory tour” to boost support for the war after a frightening battle in Iraq. The story is told through flashbacks to the fighting, while Lynn is set to appear during the halftime festivities at a Thanksgiving Day football game.

In addition to Studio 8 and Bona, Sony Picture’s Columbia Tristar Motion Picture Group also co-produced “Billy Lynn” and will distribute it in other markets. The film is the first major movie for Studio 8, which has 30 movies under development.

Taiwan-born Director Lee has built a following among film fans with hits such as “Life of Pi,” in 2012, “Brokeback Mountain,” in 2005 and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” in 2000.

Lee’s appeal in China runs deep, said Rob Cain, president of Pacific Bridge Pictures. "So there’s natural factor for “Billy Lynn” to succeed in China."

— With assistance by Jing Yang De Morel

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.