Just like Amazon, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is getting into filmmaking, and it's kicking things off with some huge names. According to Alizila, Alibaba announced yesterday that Wong Kar-wai, the acclaimed director behind In the Mood for Love and Chungking Express, will produce the first movie to come out of Alibaba Pictures Group, which was established last year. Tony Leung, a frequent collaborator of Wong's, will take a leading role in the film. Between the two of them, that's a huge amount of star power with the potential to open Alibaba's first picture up to a wider audience. The film is called Bai Du Ren, which translates to The Ferryman, and will be directed by Zhang Jiajia based on Zhang's own short story.
Alibaba Pictures will use "cloud computing and big data technologies" to reach viewers
Over the past year or so, traditional tech companies have been diving headfirst into the content game, trying to produce their own movies and TV shows to varying degrees of success. Watching a giant like Amazon flail about for a while has shown how difficult stepping into an established industry can be — but it's also shown how rewarding it can be for a company that's willing to invest in respected names. Netflix realized that first, finding big success with David Fincher and Kevin Spacey in House of Cards, and Amazon finally received some validation last night at the Golden Globes, when its series Transparent won best TV comedy or musical.
Alibaba is very much playing the same game as Amazon: creating exclusive content that it already has the infrastructure to distribute and that it can simultaneously use to bolster its existing services. In a statement, Zhang Qiang, CEO of Alibaba Pictures, touts Alibaba's ability to take advantage of "cloud computing and big data technologies" to find viewers and put its creations in front of them. And like Amazon and Netflix, that tech is also going to be used to help Alibaba determine what types of entertainment is should make next.
Alibaba's expansion into film is not as strange as it may first sound. Though the company may be known for e-commerce, it also has businesses in shipping, cloud services, payment processing, gaming, and more. Alibaba has already found that getting into film is not going to be cheap — but, if successful, it'll bring respectability and help it encroach on a lucrative industry that hasn't entirely figured out the internet yet. Doing that won't be easy, but with Wong and Leung on board, Alibaba is putting itself in a strong position out the gate.