Investor and Filmmaker John Liu Considers Houston in His Dreams for Chinese and Global Entertainment
Film: In the times of Locusts
TV series: Power and Blood: Empress
Financial expert Dr. John Liu, founder of Han Capital Management, a New York City and Shanghai-based hedge fund and private equity fund, is adept at investing money. Recently, he has set his sights on the Chinese film and television industry. Not only does the former Citigroup and SAC Capital Management executive recognise the steady growth of the Chinese entertainment industry, and therefore its prime investment value, he also sees it as a way to indulge one of his passions. A history buff, Dr. Liu is eager to spread the story of Chinese history, culture, people, and society to the rest of the world, and he wants to do it through movies and TV series.
To that end, Dr. Liu has raised $500 million to fund Chinese films and TV projects. Dr. Liu plans to create, develop, fund, produce, and distribute 15 U.S.-based films under Han Pictures and Media Corp over the next three years. Dr. Liu is not only interested in producing films and TV shows for the Chinese market, he wants to create them for the global market as well. There are two projects that he especially believes have universal appeal. The first is a World War II feature film called In the Time of the Locusts. It tells the little-known tale of China’s involvement in WWII as one of America’s allies.
The second is a television series called Power and Blood: Empress. It tells the unique and fascinating story of a period in Chinese history when only female emperors ruled. About 1300 years ago, 80 million people lived in the Central Kingdom, which was half the world’s population at the time. Over 1 million of them lived in the capital city, making it the largest city in the world. This exciting series, with its rich and deep story structure, could rival series like Game of Thrones in popularity.
While Dr. Liu was in Houston for WorldFest, CKW Luxe had the honor of speaking with him about his background, his interests, his foray into the film industry, and his plans, if any, to invest in Houston.
CKW Luxe: Please tell our readers a little about your background, how you became involved with hedge funds, and what it was like to work on Wall Street.
Dr. John Liu: I came to the United States from China in 1989 and studied physics at the University of California, San Diego. When I was almost finished my PhD, I decided to switch my major and transferred to the University of Pennsylvania to study finance. After I graduated, I went to Wall Street and began my career as an investment banker and trader with Credit Suisse AG and later Citigroup. After working at Citigroup for seven and a half years, I went on to work with other firms and then with hedge funds until I began my own. Working in finance is an interesting job; it gives you the skills you need to learn what makes a good investment and what doesn’t.
CKW: You are a master at raising funds for complex projects. Can you tell us what made you decide to become involved in the film industry and what some of your future projects will be?
JL: When you work in the stock market, you learn that the key thing is to find a good project and sort out how to finance it and structure the deal. The complexity of the project doesn’t matter. Once you’ve worked out the financing, you can get the project done. The film industry is especially interesting because it involves both technology and art. It is highly technological but also art-related at the same time. And, it is heavily involved with money. Movies need a lot of money in order to be produced. It is a highly integrated industry requiring many skills. To make a film work, good artists, highly-developed technology, and deep pockets are required. Wall Street is getting more and more involved with the film industry making it even more successful.
CKW: You have a deep and abiding love for Chinese history and culture. Why is it important to you that American audiences be made aware of them, and what aspects of Chinese culture would you like Americans to learn more about through your movies and television series?
JL: China has a long and rich history and culture that other countries, including the United States, don’t know a lot about. The Chinese civilization is the fourth largest in the world and dominated the globe for many centuries. During the last one hundred years, however, China has had little international influence. The Chinese are very proud of their history and culture and would like other countries and cultures to discover them. With China now on the rise, the confidence of its people is increasing, and the country is becoming more important to the rest of the world. I believe the best way to educate the world about China is through the entertainment industry, by telling its stories on film.
CKW: Please tell us what your long-term goals are for investing in these movies. Would you like them to forge a stronger relationship between China and the United States, and can you see that as being an outcome?
JL: The Chinese film industry has been growing quickly, especially over the past five years. Currently, it is second only to the United States with a box office of $US7.5 billion for 2016. This is an important fact for investors. The country is now telling its story world-wide. Through movies, other countries can understand China better. The Chinese feel their dynasties are as exciting and important as the Roman Empire. My goal is to bring China’s current story, as well as its diverse history, to the world. I want to create better relationships with the people and governments of other countries, especially the United States, to which I have devoted much of my life.
CKW: Can you tell us if you have ever considered investing in Houston? If you have, what aspects of the city have made you interested in doing so?
JL: Houston is the largest city in the United States. It is dynamic and prosperous, and its government has been aggressive and highly successful in attracting investment. I’m here now, at the invitation of the City of Houston, to discuss potential investment opportunities in the entertainment sector. The state government is also determined to develop the entertainment sector. I see lots of opportunity in investing in Houston, which is the main reason I’m visiting.
Dr. John Liu has had a varied life and business career. He has found a way to balance his interests in science, history, finance, and art and make them work together by investing in the Chinese entertainment industry. Liu isn’t doing this only because it’s good business. His loyalty is to the country and culture he loves and respects. Along with his countrymen, Dr. Liu has decided to stand up and help China be noticed by undoing the lock on its incredible past and opening its doors to the world through the magic of movies and television.