Disney takes 'High School Musical' to China

HONG KONG (AP) - November 23, 2009

HONG KONG (AP) - How do you say school's out in Chinese?

Disney is recreating its hit franchise film "High School Musical" in the East as it turns its attention to the millions of teenagers in the massive China market.

The announcement comes just weeks after the Burbank, California-based company said the Chinese government has approved plans for a Shanghai theme park.

"Disney High School Musical: China" will be a co-production with Chinese companies Shanghai Media Group and Huayi Brothers Media Corp., The Walt Disney Co. said in a statement Sunday, allowing it to bypass China's annual quota of 20 films that foreign studios can share profits in.

The story of two friends who overcome odds to win an inter-school singing competition marks Disney's third co-produced film in China after "The Magic Gourd" in 2007 and this year's "Trail of the Panda" and its sixth international co-production.

Featuring six newcomers, the film will be shot in Shanghai and is scheduled for a summer 2010 release, Disney said.

"High School Musical" started out as a TV movie that launched in the U.S. in January 2006 but went on to become a big hit internationally, airing in more than 30 languages in some 100 countries and turning Zac Efron into a household name, according to Disney. Its sequel, also a TV movie, was also a success. Disney then released the third installment in movie theaters in October 2008, with "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" grossing $250 million worldwide.

Disney's choice of director for the Chinese version is unusual.

Chen Shizheng is better known as stage director, mounting a 19-hour production of the classic Chinese opera piece "The Peony Pavilion" in 1999. His first feature film was the 2007 drama "Dark Matter," the story of a troubled Chinese astrophysics student studying in the U.S. starring Meryl Streep and China's Liu Ye.

The deal also burnishes the credentials of one of China's leading nongovernment film studios. The project marks Huayi Brothers' second major co-production deal with Hollywood in recent years. The company, which recently went public, also made "The Forbidden Kingdom" - the first on-screen collaboration between Jackie Chan and Jet Li - with Casey Silver Productions and Relativity Media.

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