Alibaba’s Jack Ma says China needs more Hollywood heroes

Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma at the Asia Game Changer Awards event in New York on Oct. 16.

Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma at the Asia Game Changer Awards event in New York on Oct. 16.

(Bryan Thomas / AFP/Getty Images)

Jack Ma: founder of Alibaba, China’s richest man and big “Forrest Gump” fan.

Fresh off the biggest IPO of all time, Ma is in Los Angeles this week to visit several movie studios with the aim of striking content deals for online distribution in China.

“I watch a lot of movies, but it doesn’t mean I know about the movie industry,” the billionaire said when asked by a Times reporter about his Hollywood strategy. “I watched my mother cook for 30 years; I cannot cook. So I come here to learn. I want to come here looking for partners.”


In China, Ma, a former schoolteacher, has become a bit of a hero after creating Alibaba, now a massive conglomerate that includes e-commerce, banking, entertainment, social media, music streaming and other interests.

During a question-and-answer session at the D tech conference in Laguna Beach on Monday night, Ma said he’s enamored with Hollywood heroes and wants to bring those storylines back to China. He said it bothered him that Chinese movies often kill off the good guy, and that he worried about what that message means for viewers, particularly Chinese youth.

“American movies -- all the heroes ... they’re great heroes and all the heroes are alive,” he said. “But in China, heroes must die. And if the heroes die, no one wants to be the heroes. I’ve never seen a movie in China that the hero survived.”

Ma noted that many young people in China feel “hopeless,” and said society should do what it can to encourage optimism.

“All the societies should make the heroes survive,” he said.

During the 40-minute Q&A session, Ma also revealed that he met with Kobe Bryant on Monday and said the two discussed the movie “The Bodyguard.”

“I said I learned a lot of things from movies,” he recalled of his conversation with the Lakers star. “I learned how to make a speech from the movie called ‘The Bodyguard’ -- Whitney Houston. When she sings the songs I look at her and say, ‘Wow, that is the way you make a speech.’”

The film buff said he also learned life lessons from “The Godfather” and that his favorite movie is “Forrest Gump.”

Ma predicted that China will overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest film market and said he’s particularly interested in broadening the entertainment offerings there to serve the country’s growing middle class, which needs “great cultural products.” Currently, he said, Chinese movies are “too isolated” in scope because of government restraints.

During his trip, Ma is scheduled to meet with high-level executives at major studios including 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Paramount Pictures.

Follow Andrea Chang on Twitter