Veteran film executive Milt Barlow has stepped down as CEO of Tangren Cultural Group, an Australia-based multi-territorial Chinese film distributor, amid allegations from both sides of breach of contract.
Barlow sold his company Asia Releasing to Tangren in mid-2018 and became its CEO at the end of the year, but said he has now issued a breach notice and plans to take action in justice against the company, possibly including a petition to shut it down.
âIt became apparent to me in January that the structure and funding of the business was not something I felt comfortable with,â said Barlow. Variety. âMultiple breaches of my contract with Tangren over the past three months without an offer to resolve unfortunately forced me to send a termination notice to Tangren at the end of April and terminate my association with the company. “
Tangren fought back, claiming Barlow was the one who broke their contract and suggesting Barlow had not left voluntarily. Tangren alleges that although he paid it for Asia Releasing, Barlow did not transfer the company to the new owner. He also alleges that Barlow has not fully returned the box office revenue generated by film releases in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom since April of last year.
âOur CFO (sent) a letter from a lawyer, telling him the status. He didn’t respond, âsaid Jack Li, Tangren board member. Variety. Li also says Barlow spent $ 68,000 (AU $ 100,000) of company money on a car that he did not properly register in Tangren’s name.
Barlow was CEO of Village Roadshow between 1988 and 1998, and in 2008 helped launch China Lion, a company that has helped release more than 50 Chinese films in North America. Barlow left China Lion in 2013, founded the video company Chopflix, and then returned to the cinema with Asia Releasing.
Tangren, which previously had ties to advertising, has over the past two years become the largest distributor of Asian-language films in Australia and New Zealand. Rentrak data shows Tangren released over 15 films in 2018, with success with Chinese titles “Operation Red Sea” and “How Long Will I Love You” and “Along With the Gods II” in Korea .
Tangren was a major advertiser at last November’s US Film Market in Los Angeles, where he paid for billboards and gifted drink bottle memorabilia to executives. He was expected to have an equally important presence at Cannes, but is rather absent.
Barlow says the company’s precarious financial situation means it has stopped acquiring new films, citing Ning Hao’s Chinese New Year hit “Crazy Alien” as an example of a title Tangren announced but did not. released in Australia or New Zealand.
Barlow said Tangren told him the Chinese government was planning to privatize the company and take a majority position. “This information must be approved by the board of directors, [and] is not made public, “Li told Variety.” We have received a lot of invitations and have yet to decide. “
One thing Barlow and Li agree on is that earlier this year Tangren aired pro-China trailers, including a message from Chinese President Xi Jinping, in several Australian theaters, ahead of films such as ” How to Train Your Dragon “. the Sun Herald The newspaper called the message “bizarre” and said it espoused “socialism with Chinese characteristics” and aimed to increase China’s soft power in Australia. The Daily Mail said the Mandarin advertisement spoke of “promoting Chinese political philosophies” as well as “producing significant influence in Western society” before concluding with mentions of “strengthening cultural soft power and promoting culture. Chinese in the world “.
“We just want to do cultural propaganda,” Li said. Variety, suggesting that the Italian word does not need to have sinister connotations.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner, with activities based on Australian exports of raw materials, metals and dairy products. But over the past two years, relations have deteriorated over fears of Chinese political and industrial influence in Australia. Last June, Australia passed anti-foreign influence laws targeting Chinese political donations and espionage. The bilateral relationship has been described as “toxic” after Australia barred controversial tech company Huawei from bidding to supply 5G telecommunications equipment.