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'Kung Fu Panda 3' Lets Hollywood Break New Ground in China

When Dreamworks Animation's (DWA) animated film Kung Fu Panda 3 karate-chops its way into Chinese theaters on Jan. 29 it will break new ground for Hollywood, becoming the most extensive co-production between U.S. and Chinese media companies.

The film was created both at Dreamworks' California studio and at Oriental Dreamworks, a Shanghai-based studio formed in a 2013 joint venture between the Hollywood studio and four Chinese media companies that collectively own 54.5%.

Its majority ownership by Chinese companies gives Kung Fu Panda 3 homegrown status in the world's second-largest movie market. That enables it to bypass the country's strict quota system for foreign films, and gives it an advantageous release date during the blackout period just before the Chinese New Year and Spring Festival Golden Week when imported films are banned.

"This is a meaningful, significant and long-term play in China that should have a real impact on the industry," says Marc Ganis, president of Jiaflix, the Chinese production and marketing partner for Transformers: Age of Extinction that was produced by Viacom's (VIAB)  Paramount Pictures in 2014. "Because animated films play very well in China it ought to do very, very well with all of its benefits."

Those benefits include the ability to play in Chinese theaters for more than the 30-day limit usually placed on imported films, says Ganis. Because its producers were able to lock in the release date months ahead -- far more time than the government gives for imported films -- the film will benefit with more ads and other marketing ahead of its release, he said.

The Kung Fu Panda franchise, whose characters include an accident-prone panda voiced by comic actor Jack Black and other animals versed in the martial arts, is already a big fan favorite in China.