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May 28, 2016 12:29 AM

Chinese developer Wanda opens theme park to take on Disney

The Associated Press

NANCHANG, China (AP) China's largest private property developer, the Wanda Group, opened an entertainment complex on Saturday that it's positioning as competition for Disney and its $5.5 billion Shanghai theme park opening next month.

Wanda executives unveiled their $3 billion "Wanda City" in the southeastern provincial capital of Nanchang to thundering music reminiscent of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" theme and hailed the center as a representative of Chinese entertainment culture in the face of foreign influences.

As a leading player in Chinese firms' globalization push, the property group has invested heavily in the film and cinema business and has spoken openly about overtaking Disney as a leading entertainment brand as a matter of nationalistic duty.

Wanda's massive site includes an $800 million theme park, an indoor shopping mall with cinemas, restaurants, hotels and the world's largest ocean park. Disney is set to open its own resort in Shanghai the largest Disneyland in the world in June.

In remarks at Saturday's opening, Wang Jianlin, Wanda chairman and China's richest man, did not mention Disney by name but said Chinese people "fawned" over Western culture.

"Chinese culture led in the world's for 2,000 years, but since the last 300 years, because of our lagging development and the invasion of foreign cultures, we have more or less lacked confidence in our own culture," Wang said. "We want to be a model for Chinese private enterprise, and we want to establish a global brand for Chinese firms."

Earlier this month he told Chinese state television in an interview that Disney's foray into China would crumble under more competitive pricing from his group, and warned that the "the frenzy of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and the era of blindly following them has passed."

Wanda's dealmaking has been similarly aggressively as it quickly diversifies away from China's weakening real estate market.

The group purchased U.S.-based AMC Theaters cinema chain in 2012 for $2.5 billion and paid $3.5 billion for Legendary Entertainment the Hollywood studio behind the Batman franchise earlier this year as it ramped up its international push.

Even so, signs of Disney's foreign presence abounded in newly opened Wanda City. Thousands of tourists who paid 198 yuan for a ticket (about $30) on Saturday's opening were greeted by what looked like a woman in a Snow White costume as well as storm troopers, the armored soldiers from the Star Wars franchise owned by Disney.


Associated Press Writer Gerry Shih contributed to this report.


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