Special Section - Asia-Pacific Region - November 2018

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The new K11 Art Mall in Guangzhou, China, joins a reimagined retail environment with modern art, displaying installations such as “Van Gogh’s Ear.” (Credit: New World Development Co.)

Art for the Masses

Hong Kong’s K11 Takes China by Storm

by Michael Switow

Outside the newly opened K11 Art Mall in Guangzhou, China, young partygoers gathered poolside after work one Friday evening in the summer for cocktails, ice cream, and the popular beats of DJ Ryan. The backdrop for the party—the pool—was not filled with water, though, nor could it be. The pear-shaped turquoise pool was standing vertical, with a luminescent diving board positioned at 12 o’clock. Set in front of the gold-tinted, glass-paneled mall, the K11 logo was prominently displayed to its side, as the pool was part of an installation called “Van Gogh’s Ear” by European artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset.

This is not your traditional museum, or the shopping mall you grew up with—rather an attraction all its own. The K11 Art Mall eclectically fuses a reimagined retail environment with modern art.

Inside the mall, exhibition spaces and artwork are interspersed between a Korean cinema, a Chinese bookstore, a popular Vietnamese restaurant, and boutiques selling fashion by Moschino, Emporio Armani, Dsquared2, and the chic Chinese brand MO&Co., to name a few.

A crumpled golden stairway, more than 150 feet long, designed by contemporary Beijing-based artist Gao Weigang, runs from the first floor to the eighth. The sheer size of the artwork, entitled “Sublimation,” provokes visitors to ponder its meaning. On the fourth floor, in an art space called chi K11 Art Space, photographer Chen Wei’s “Where Are You Going Tonight?” depicts images of Guangzhou’s rapid growth, while two levels down, the smile on the sculpture “Big-headed Dog,” by Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, is contagious.

“There hasn’t been anything like this before in Guangzhou,” a K11 spokesperson tells Funworld. “Retail spaces are usually like boxes. People go there, they buy something, they leave. But the crowds at K11 clearly show that Chinese millennials (the generation born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s) crave great content.” At the launch this past April, some 20,000 people bought tickets for the opening show in the first two weeks alone, while total foot traffic topped 1.5 million in the first month.

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In each K11 location, visitors can view the company’s own collection of contemporary art, in addition to traveling exhibitions by Chinese and international artists. (Credit: New World Development Co.)

‘Museum Retail’

The Guangzhou K11 Art Mall is the brainchild of Adrian Cheng and a part of his vision to democratize art. He aims to “create a contemporary Chinese identity” through the launch of nearly 30 “art malls” and related projects across China.

Cheng, the eldest grandson of one of Hong Kong’s top developers, is the executive vice-chairman of New World Development, a real estate and retail empire with a market cap of more than US$13 billion. He’s also the head of China’s largest jeweler—and an avid art collector himself.

A decade ago, before he had even turned 30, Cheng founded K11, which leverages New World’s expertise to bring art to a new generation of Chinese citizens.

K11, Cheng will tell you, is a “museum retail” experience. It’s neither a traditional museum, nor a gallery or store. Instead it fuses art and commerce, bringing the former into spaces originally designed for the latter. Art becomes an attraction, drawing people to the mall. Simultaneously, the mall is already a space preferred by millennials.

“As China is getting wealthier, people need to have more cultural identity,” Cheng told Alexander Forbes, the executive editor of Artsy, a platform dedicated to expanding the art market. “We want to showcase the creativity of China.”

K11 Art Foundation (KAF) is helping with that latter goal by incubating artists and working with international partners like New York City’s New Museum, London’s Royal Academy of the Arts, and Paris’ Palais de Tokyo, all in an effort to display their works. The foundation’s resources also help other retailers who may wish to emulate K11’s strategy.

“We are proud of our own country and think contemporary Chinese culture is very important—not just art, but design, architecture, and furniture,” Cheng told Forbes. “Young generations want to be part of this new cultural identity that represents the new China; they want to grow with it and also hopefully make it an international thing, as well.”

K11’s Origins

“There wasn’t really a museum-going habit in China or Hong Kong 10 years ago,” adds K11 Concepts Senior Operations Director Rebecca Woo. “Galleries and museums always felt uptight to Hong Kong and Chinese youth.”

It wasn’t that young people didn’t appreciate art, says Woo, who has worked with New World Development since the early 1990s; it’s just that they didn’t feel comfortable in the traditional venues. At the same time, millennials were becoming disaffected with mainstream commerce. They wanted more. They yearned for new experiences and cared about the environment.

“They wanted to learn about the stories of products that they buy and to discover new culture and concepts,” Woo says. “Adrian thought, ‘Hey, maybe the best way for the masses to consume or see art is to bring it to a more relaxed environment, to a space where they’re most comfortable—the shopping mall.’ That’s the basic idea behind K11: to bring art—not only art pieces—but everything that a museum does—including curation, education, and workshops—to a retail space.”

The first K11 was built on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong in the popular Tsim Sha Tsui shopping district. In 2013, K11 expanded to Shanghai. Today, there are five K11 art malls, including two that opened this year, the one in Guangzhou, plus another in Shenyang. Cheng plans to expand to nine cities in Greater China by 2023.

Each K11 has its own unique identity. Shanghai is edgy and forward-thinking with a theatrical entrance. Guangzhou relies on more water elements. Hong Kong’s K11 is vertical, and Shenyang—the site of imperial palaces and botanical gardens—has abundant green features. K11 Shenyang is also billed as having China’s “largest indoor children’s entertainment center,” complete with a National Geographic adventure park, Lego Discovery Center, and an aquarium.

In each location, visitors can view K11’s own collection of contemporary art, alongside traveling exhibitions by Chinese and international artists. An art space in the third-floor basement of the Shanghai K11 Art Mall, for example, hosted the first Claude Monet exhibition in mainland China. Over a nine-week period in 2014, the “Master of Impressionism” exhibit, featuring 40 original works by the French master, attracted more than 200,000 people. While the artist was French, the exhibit was still positioned as a way to “open a new dialogue for Chinese artists” and “bring new interpretations and value” to the development of Chinese art.

In one sense, K11’s business model resembles that of a museum. There are ticketed events, and it sells art-related merchandise. But the company has the added benefit of being a landlord, with office tenants, as well as retailers.

K11 doesn’t release financials, but it has shared several indicators of success. Twenty million visitors have attended exhibitions and talks in Hong Kong alone. Visitation at the Hong Kong outlet has doubled over the past 10 years, and sales turnover is up 150 percent. Once a US$25 million renovation is completed next year, it expects both metrics to rise another 30 percent. (K11’s parent company New World Development booked gross profits last year of nearly US$2 billion before taxes.)

The new Hong Kong K11, called K11 MUSEA (“a muse by the sea”), is part of a larger New World Development initiative—a US$2.6 billion, 3 million-square-foot Victoria Dockside project opening next year—to revive the iconic Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront. In addition to providing a “leisure destination for the public to immerse themselves in art and design,” K11 MUSEA has several eco-friendly elements—including one of the world’s “largest living walls” with more than 50,000 square feet of greenery—to reflect millennials’ ever-growing environmental consciousness. 

Bringing the museum to the people, in a fun and eco-friendly manner, is definitely resonating with Chinese and Hong Kong youth.

“I think, in the future, the next K11 openings will be even bigger,” says Woo.

Michael Switow is a Singapore-based writer who covers the Asia-Pacific attractions industry for Funworld.


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Lionsgate is developing several attractions for its theme parks based on popular film series like “The Twilight Saga,” which will have its own motion simulator ride. (Credit: Lionsgate)

From the Big Screen to the Parks Scene

Lionsgate leverages blockbuster intellectual properties to enter the attractions industry

by Michael Switow

Banking on the popularity of films like “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” and “The Twilight Saga”—intellectual properties (IP) that helped Lionsgate gross nearly $10 billion over the past five years—Hollywood’s first major new studio in decades is now moving into the location-based entertainment space in a major way.

Lionsgate dipped its toes into the theme park space last October with a branded zone at Motiongate Dubai that features two intellectual properties: “Step Up: All In” and “The Hunger Games.” Together, there are three attractions. Early next year, the company will launch an indoor theme park called Lionsgate Entertainment World at Novotown on Hengqin Island, China. In early 2020, visitors to Jeju Shinhwa World in South Korea will be able to enjoy the first outdoor Lionsgate park, Lionsgate Movie World. Each of these groundbreaking parks features six blockbuster IPs.

At the same time, Lionsgate has signed a partnership with Spain’s Parques Reunidos to roll out a series of “next-generation entertainment centers” in Europe and the United States. The first of these indoor centers will open in New York City’s Times Square in the second or third quarter of 2019, followed by one in Madrid a few months later.

Lionsgate Senior Vice President of Global Live and Location-Based Entertainment Jenefer Brown, an alumnus of the Thinkwell Group, has overseen her company’s diversification into location-based entertainment. Funworld caught up with Brown to discuss Lionsgate’s entry into the attractions space.

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“Capitol Bullet Train” brings the world of “The Hunger Games” to life at Motiongate Dubai. (Credit: Lionsgate)

Has launching theme parks always been part of Lionsgate’s plans? Is the company thinking about this when it produces new movies? 

Jenefer Brown: When the first “Hunger Games” film was produced, the studio wasn’t quite thinking that way yet. We knew that we had something really exciting, but I think once we saw how well the film was received and the power that that brand had, that’s when it became apparent there was this larger opportunity in this space to continue to engage with fans and develop the worlds the films created for them.

One of the strategies here is called “Lionsgate 360,” and it really is about looking at our content and making sure it can work across all the divisions of the studio, or at least several of them, [including] film, TV, location-based entertainment, gaming, and consumer products. We’re constantly thinking about how something can work in one space and then another so that we can engage with all these different touch points.

What was the point that led Lionsgate to enter the attractions industry?

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 Jenefer Brown
JB: The decision to enter the attractions phase came when the studio reached a point, about five years ago, when Tim Palen, our chief brand officer, felt like Lionsgate had amassed a really significant portfolio of content. We had made significant acquisitions—including Summit Entertainment, which owned “Twilight,” among other films—so we had 16,000 titles in the films library and were producing dozens and dozens of shows across different networks. The feeling was that we have this really great portfolio of content, and we should be extending it around the world. We have this global audience that we want to keep engaged between films, between TV seasons, and this is a great way to do it. That really was what was driving the strategy to look into this space and see if we could contribute to it in a meaningful way.

At that time, it was also a game-changing year in the location-based entertainment space. Universal Parks & Resorts introduced The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and saw a lot of success with that. So, I think all of the studios, not just Lionsgate, really started taking a closer look at the business and became more serious about finding ways to extend their portfolios. 

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Motiongate Dubai features a Lionsgate branded zone with two intellectual properties: “Step Up: All In” and “The Hunger Games.” (Credit: Lionsgate)

How would you describe Lionsgate’s attractions industry strategy?

JB: We have approached this in a unique way. We’re focused on building out the Lionsgate brand, so rather than looking to license attractions in a one-off way to other parks, our strategy has really been to find best-in-class partners in key locations around the world, find the right project that suits our IP and the level of quality for our experiences that we want to deliver, and make sure they’re Lionsgate-branded and encompass a number of our IPs.

So, that’s why at Motiongate (Dubai), it’s a Lionsgate zone. That’s why the project in China is branded Lionsgate Entertaiment World, Jeju is Lionsgate Movie World (South Korea), and we have the Lionsgate Entertainment Cities that we’re developing with Parques Reunidos. It really is about not just focusing on the IPs that make us such a great studio, but the studio as a whole, the Lionsgate brand, and what we envision that entertainment experience should be. 

Lionsgate appears to have a two-pronged strategy: to build big parks in Asia and smaller indoor attractions in Europe and the United States. Why is that?

JB: We have fans all over the world. In markets where they’re building outdoor theme parks and have the availability of land and capital, we’re exploring those opportunities. But while we love the large-scale theme park projects, the reality is that in mature markets like the United States and Europe, it’s really hard to find a place that’s large enough to build out a full-scale theme park, and it’s really expensive, so those projects don’t come along very often. For fans that live in cities, we’re looking at high-traffic areas like shopping malls or city centers, so that we can still deliver a really great entertainment experience and bring our properties to fans.

Tell us more about the family entertainment centers (FECs) Lionsgate is developing in New York City and Madrid with Parques Reunidos.

JB: We’re incorporating a wide range of experiences, integrating things like virtual reality (VR), rides, immersive retail, and F&B (food and beverage), like a “Mad Men” restaurant and lounge, inspired by the one frequented by Don Draper in the TV series. The Times Square Lionsgate Entertainment City will also feature a “Divergent”-themed obstacle course, “John Wick: Chapter 2” shooting ride, and “The Hunger Games” flying simulator. It’s going to feel like a destination you would drive two hours away to go to, but you’re going to have it right in your own backyard. And the goal is to make it repeatable so that people will want to come back to do it over and over again.

A lot of the FECs in existence now appeal to a narrower audience, [particularly] younger kids. We’re really trying to broaden the audience that’s going to come to this entertainment experience, and so we have a lot of attractions that will appeal to preteens, teens, young adults, and adults to drive the age of the audience up. There really is a void in the market right now in that space for that audience.

Is Lionsgate directly involved in ride and attraction conception and design, or is it mainly licensing IP?

JB: We’re very involved. We have a highly skilled team, and everyone on our team has actually worked in location-based entertainment, whether be it design or production. We are very actively involved in the design of these projects.

Lionsgate’s first two full-fledged parks are in China and South Korea. Why did it choose to build these in Asia?

JB: You have to have a solid understanding of where the opportunities are. China is the fastest-growing theme park market in the world, so if you’re not looking at China and you’re working in the location-based entertainment space, then you really don’t know your stuff. We wanted to be on the forefront. Asia in general is really a key market for location-based entertainment. Lucky for us, we have these brands that have been global box office successes. They resonate in the markets that we’re going into. There’s also a lot of activity in the [attractions] space in these markets, and the opportunities are a good fit for what we’re looking to do.

Novotown, a HK$18 billion project by Hong Kong’s Lai Sun Group, will launch on Hengqin Island across from Macau early next year. In addition to Lionsgate Entertainment World, Novotown will feature attractions by National Geographic, Real Madrid, and Porsche, as well as an international school, performance hall, and health-care and beauty center. Why did Lionsgate want to be part of this project?

JB: We were extremely impressed with Lai Sun. They shared a vision that is unique, and they’re delivering a project that’s world class. It’s going to feel very innovative. There’s nothing quite like what they’re doing out there.

Lai Sun gave us a lot of latitude to develop the creative for the attractions in ways we felt were befitting of the plans. We’re using technology in different ways, but it’s all very integrated into the experience. Because they are looking to be innovative, we were able to do some really great things—with virtual reality, interactive elements, and gamification—and approach the project design in a refreshing way.

We’re also excited about Hengqin Island. It’s a growing tourist market—on the mainland side of China, but with proximity to Macau and Hong Kong. It’s also very close to Chimelong’s Ocean Kingdom. 

How will Lionsgate Entertainment World in China differ from Lionsgate Movie World in Korea?

JB: As Novotown is an indoor environment, media can play a greater role, so we’re doing a lot of different things with media and with different technologies. For example, we are developing a motion simulator ride, using virtual reality technology, around “Twilight” that is really unlike anything that’s out there now. It will be the first of its kind for this type of attraction. In a “Divergent”-themed part of the park, there’s a VR experience where guests will be able to challenge their fears, and we have a VR coaster as well for “Gods of Egypt.”

Our partner in Korea, Landing International Development, is also creating an exceptional resort destination. We’re impressed by how many people visit Jeju Island every year, as well as the prospect of being the first Hollywood studio park in Korea. We have the space in Lionsgate Movie World to build out the Capital and District 12 (from “The Hunger Games”), so fans will get the full experience of that world. We’re doing that with each of the IPs in the park. The Jeju park also has a Lionsgate Horror Zone featuring two of our really successful horror properties, “Saw” and “The Cabin in the Woods.”

In both parks, we will have a lot of interactive elements throughout the experience, so visitors can put themselves inside the world of the films and constantly have opportunities to engage with the IP. A lot of these will be shareable on social media, as well as things you can take home for yourself as a souvenir of your experience.


Michael Switow is a Singapore-based writer who covers the Asia-Pacific attractions industry for Funworld.