Media & Gaming

Hobbled horse

Chairman’s death leaves promising film studio in limbo


The Eternal Moment’s Xu Jinglei

“We can never predict the future. A man who does not plan far ahead will have problems. Always be prepared is the best policy,” Li Ming told Southern Weekend in an interview back in 2012.

As prepared as Li was, he couldn’t predict his own fate. The chairman of Beijing Galloping Horse Media died – very suddenly – earlier this year (he was 47 and had a heart attack). And the company he founded has now slumped as his widow and his sisters fight over the future of the media firm.

Prior to Li’s death, Galloping Horse was involved in some high-profile projects like The Karate Kid, starring Jackie Chan, and Ning Hao’s box office smash, No Man’s Land. It was also involved in the highly successful TV series Three Kingdoms. But its breakout movie came in 2011: The Eternal Moment, starring Li Yapeng and Xu Jinglei, cost Rmb13 million ($2.1 million) to produce but generating more than Rmb200 million at the domestic box office.

However, family infighting is now threatening Galloping Horse’s future. After Li’s death, his widow Jin Yan was given the title of chairman and chief executive of the company. But she doesn’t get along with her husband’s siblings, who are the third and fourth largest shareholders of the company. So the two combined against Jin, with one of the two sisters named chairman of the firm early this month.

Amid the chaos, senior company executives are departing in quick succession. Zhong Lifang, who worked closely with Li, is one of those to hand in her resignation. “I left because I didn’t want to get involved in the middle of the dispute (between Jin and the Li sisters),” she told 21CN Business Herald. “For a long time, Li was my partner. We shared many values and we understood each other very well. But after his death everything was gone.”

Other employees are similarly worried about the company’s future since its founder’s death. Many say the new management has put so little attention into the actual business that it’s already falling behind competitors. The studio has developed virtually no projects this year. The only notable offering in the pipeline is John Woo’s The Crossing, which is going to be released soon. But that deal was struck when Li was still alive.

“The problem with the company’s management certainly affects its business expansion. As a film studio, unless there are projects in development there’s no business. And as an employee, there’s also nothing more heartbreaking than watching this unfold,” another staffer told 21CN.

With hindsight, Galloping Horse relied too much on the personal charm of its founder. Film director Gao Qunshu once told Century Weekly that filmmakers often chose to work with the studio because they enjoyed working with Li. (“He treated friends better than himself and was willing to lose money just to help them fulfill their dreams.”) Since his death, famous directors like John Woo and Ning Hao, both close friends of Li, have jumped ship to other studios.

Moreover, the company had been planning a backdoor listing in China, something that has been put on hold since Li’s death. One insider told Tencent Entertainment, a portal, that Galloping Horse had slowed down its investment in film projects over the last two years because it was worried that any high-profile flops would be detrimental to its listing process. But now that plan has been shelved indefinitely too.

So what would Li do if he were still alive? “Li Ming used to always tell me to think about the position of the other party. That explains why Galloping Horse had attracted so many talents in the film industry. I think they (Jin and the sisters) should put away their emotions and sensibly have a discussion,” says Zhong Lifang, one of the departing employees.

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