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Chen Xi Appointed Chair of Wanda Film, China’s Largest Cinema Chain

Actor, film producer and executive Chen Xi has been appointed as board director, chair and representative of Wanda Film, China’s largest cinema operator.

Chen (who is also known as Chen Zhixi and who sometimes uses the English name Yedda Chen) becomes one of the highest-positioned women in the Chinese film industry. It is heavily dominated by male administrators, executives and directors.

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At 41, Chen is also one of the youngest executives to hold such a senior executive position in China.

The move follows a change of ultimate control caused by the mounting financial problems of the Dalian Wanda holding company owned by Wang Jianlin, the former army officer who between 2012 and 2018 attempted to buy large positions in Hollywood.

In recent weeks, Ruyi Investment Management paid $310 million for a 51% stake in Wang’s Wanda Investment. That and an earlier stake purchase deal give Ruyi a 20% in Wanda Film, nearly twice that of Wang’s remaining 10.9% holding.

Wanda Film has a listing on the Shenzhen stock exchange and this week announced Chen’s appointment as a “non-independent director” and her subsequent election as chair.

Chen who is a performance graduate of Beijing’s Central Academy of Drama and holds a Masters Degree in finance from Tsinghua University, had a modest early TV acting career. In 2012, she appeared as an air stewardess in and produced “Lost in Thailand,” a landmark picture in the modernization of China’s film industry.

Since then she has accumulated producer, executive producer and investor credits in hits “Jian Bing Man,” “Animal World” and 2021’s “Hi, Mom,” which Sony plans to remake in English, many of them through China Ruyi. In 2023, she was producer of “The One and Only,” “Post Truth” and “Jonny Keep Walking.”

She quickly rose to the top of China Ruyi and was president of Shanghai Ruyi Television Production since 2015, earning RMB26.5 million ($3.7 million) from the company in the 2022 financial year. Her exit from China Ruyi was announced separately to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in January.

Those commitments have left little time for acting, though Chen appeared on screen in seminal 2015 hit “Detective Chinatown” and 2021’s “Detective Chinatown 3.”

Wanda Film this week forecast that the final version of its financial results for 2023 would show a return to profits after deep losses in COVID-afflicted 2022.

It reported, gross box office of RMB9.64 billion ($1.36 billion, excluding service fees), or close to 17% of nationwide cinema revenues, derived from 186 million ticket sales, and forecast net profits of RMB700 million to RMB1 billion ($98.8 million – $141 million).

Wanda owns 905 cinema complexes with 7,546 theaters in China and operates a further 196 complexes with 1,390 screens. Its Australian cinemas unit Hoyts had 61 complexes and 529 screens at the end of 2023.

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