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‘Coolie’ Series Picked Up by Suharjono Sisters’ I.E. Entertainment for ATF Launch (EXCLUSIVE)

I.E. Entertainment, the global distribution outfit founded and run by industry veterans Indra and Erlina Suharjono, has come on board to handle worldwide sales for Cathay Film Company’s “Coolie.”

The TV miniseries is inspired by the little-known history of enslaved Chinese ‘coolies’ in Cuba in the 1860s. It begins shooting this week in the Dominican Republic and will also include locations in Panama.

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I.E. Entertainment will introduce “Coolie” to buyers for the first time at the Asia Television Forum & Market (ATF), which runs this week in Singapore.

The eight-episode English and Chinese language drama series is a global production from Meileen Choo’s Singapore-based Cathay Film Company and features a multinational ensemble cast from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Cuba and Colombia.

Arvin Chen (“Love in Taipei,” “Mama Boy”) is directing. In-Ah Lee (“Land of Plenty,” “Don’t Come Knockin’” “The Way I Spent the End of the World”) is the series’ executive producer. Ed Buhr (“Unhung Hero”) is producing while Choo is creator and showrunner.

In the mid-1800s, when the African slave trade was outlawed throughout the Americas, plantation owners in Cuba instead began trafficking indentured servants from China and other parts of Asia. These, so-called coolies were often treated as slaves, but some integrated into Cuban society and joined the country’s fight for independence from Spain. The provided a low-cost workforce for farms, restaurants, factories and were instrumental in setting up Chinatowns across the world.

With Hong Kong actor Louise Wong (“A Guilty Conscience,” “Anita”) in the lead role as a young woman who departs from southern China to marry a political exile working on a sugarcane plantation in Cuba, the narrative sees her join forces with servants and African slaves seeking freedom. But the plantation owner’s spurned wife and her ex-lover conspire against them, triggering a series of scheming and retaliatory moves that leave Cuba’s fate in the balance.

“After reading the script and discussing at length with Meileen, we were fascinated by the world of ‘Coolie’ and the potential of an epic series which we feel has so much to say. Meileen has created a story that is fresh and truly visionary, which will undoubtedly connect with a global audience. We’re excited to bring such a compelling project to the ATF,” Indra and Erlina Suharjono said.

Their I.E. Entertainment stretches across content development, production, marketing, and distribution. The sisters each have some 30 years of experience in the entertainment business. Indra’s background is in brand-franchise management in the media, entertainment, licensing, and merchandizing. Erlina’s focus has been more in the motion picture business, specifically in acquiring, distributing, exhibiting, and producing local films.

I.E. is the exclusive distributor of Cathay-Keris classic Malay and Chinese titles. In November 2022, it became the exclusive worldwide distribution partner of BEC World PLC outside of Thailand, with CLMV and Greater China being non-exclusive.

“Having worked with both Indra and Erlina before, I very much look forward to reuniting on this project and embarking on what we anticipate being a fruitful journey with distribution partners globally. With their combined experience and knowledge of the industry, I’m confident that I.E. Entertainment are well aligned to bring this story to market,” said Choo.

Joining Wong in the cast of “Coolie” are: veteran Hong Kong actress Nina Paw Hee-Ching (“The Way We Are,” “Lost in Time”), Taiwanese actor Joseph Chang (“Eternal Summer,” “Girlfriend Boyfriend”), Colombian actor and TV personality Mauricio Henao (“La Herencia,” “Panama”), and Cuban actors Camila Arteche (“El Acompanante,” “Sergio & Serguei”), Sian Chiong (“La Mexicana y el Guero,” “Fidel’s Daughter”) and Mario Cimarro (“Romeo + Juliet, “Pasión de Gavilanes”).

Choo’s family has been a major player in Southeast Asian cinema since the 1935 establishment of the Associated Theatres chain. Cathay-Keris was a dominant production studio in Singapore, rivalling Shaw Bros, in the 1950s.

Choo became the CEO of the Cathay Organisation Group of Companies in 1985. The group divested the exhibition business in 2017 and Choo relinquished her post when she retired in 2018. She remains chairman of the Cathay Organisation and started to explore new possibilities of film and TV production through her Cathay Film Company, founded in 2020.

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