Wang Jianlin Poised to Sell Wanda Film



Wang Jianlin, the Chinese billionaire who previously sought to buy a controlling position in Hollywood, is preparing to complete his imminent exit from the film industry. The troubled conglomerate is facing debt repayment pressure.

Wanda Film, which remains China’s largest cinema operator, Wednesday said in a regulatory filing to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange that Wang and his Wanda Investment vehicle are poised to sell their remaining stake 51% in the company to China Ruyi Holdings.

Ruyi, which operates across film, TV and online games, counts games, social media and streaming giant Tencent among its largest shareholders. The Hong Kong-listed Ruyi previously bought 49% of Wanda Investment in July for $320 million (RMB2.3 billion).

Ruyi has made no comment on the pending deal. The Wanda Film filing asked for a two-day suspension of its shares and said simply, “If the above matters are ultimately implemented, it will result in a change of control of the company.”

Wang, a former army officer turned property developer, became one of the richest people in China thanks to a chain of upscale shopping malls and ritzy hotels. With a fortune at one point estimated at $44 billion, Wang was known as a stickler for punctuality and also for opulent luxury. He sometimes traveled with two private jets – one for himself and one for his luggage.

In 2012, he burst on to the world entertainment stage with the $2.3 billion acquisition of AMC, the U.S. cinema chain. He followed that by buying: Carmike theaters in the U.S.; Hoyts, the Australian cinema operator; Hollywood production firm Legendary Pictures and powerful sports rights agency Infront.

Wang and Wanda also built theme parks and threatened to chase Disney out of China when it opened the Shanghai Disneyland theme park in 2016.

Wanda bought a prominent Beverly Hills lot that had been the site of the Robinsons-May department store and after a protracted campaign secured development approval for a $1.2 billion hotel, apartment and office complex. Wang said it would be the group’s global film headquarters.

Wang and his lieutenant Jack Gao are understood to have sought to buy stakes in multiple Hollywood conglomerates. Wang expressed ambitions to reshape the global film distribution system by combining ownership of Hollywood studios with control of the world’s biggest cinema distribution chain.

But, when the Chinese government intervened in mid-2017 to block banks lending money for Wanda’s overseas asset purchases, it signaled the end of Hollywood’s love affair with China, Chinese cash and its egoistic tycoons.

Soon after, Wanda began to sell some of its assets. Among the first were the theme parks which had failed to frighten Disney and a string of hotels. Later he jettisoned the Movie Metropolis film studio, festival center, yacht-marina and residential complex in the coastal city of Qingdao that he had launched with a parade of western stars in 2013 and opened finally in 2018.

The Chinese asset sales did not appear to be enough and, despite then selling some of the overseas assets, Wanda has been on the sick list ever since. The company exited from AMC in piecemeal fashion, sold the undeveloped Beverly Hills site and slashed its stake in Legendary. It has put Hoyts on the auction block, but has not completed a sale.

Wanda may have been one of the first of China’s property developers to be engulfed by heavy borrowing taken on at a time when the Chinese economy was booming and the price of everything seemed only to go upwards. But with even larger property developers including Evergrande and Country Garden also in deep trouble and weighing heavily on China’s post-COVID economic recovery, he is not alone.

Bloomberg estimates that Wang’s net worth has plummeted to around $6 billion.


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