Studio Canal Plus, the film production arm of French pay television company Canal Plus, is to co-finance the next two films starring Chinese actress Gong Li.One will be an untitled project from director Chen Kaige, which he has been working on for the past 18 months under the title ”The Assassin.” It will be co-financed by the Gallic studio, Paris-based Pathe and Japanese investment group NDF. Gong takes the lead in historical fresco, set in 200 B.C., that tells the story of the first emperor of a united China. The film will start shooting in June in Beijing and is expected to be ready for delivery in spring 1998. Studio Canal Plus said the pic is budgeted at $30 million, considerably more than previous projects from Chen, a Cannes Palme d’Or winner for 1993’s ”Farewell My Concubine.” Studio Canal Plus also co-produced Wayne Wang’s English-lingo ”Chinese Box,” again alongside Japanese financiers NDF. That film is Gong’s first English-language picture and also stars Jeremy Irons and Maggie Cheung.
* * *Premier Japanese director Akira Kurosawa has penned his first script for another director, ”The Mask of the Black Death,” which is due to start shooting early next year for Simon Tse Prods. Kurosawa, who is now 86, adapted the screenplay from the Edgar Allan Poe story ”The Masque of the Red Death,” previously filmed by Roger Corman. Hisao Kurosawa, the veteran filmmaker’s son, will serve as executive producer. Tse, who is based in Tokyo and Los Angeles and will produce with U.S. independent producer Michael Backes, is shopping the English-language project to directors from both sides of the Atlantic, including Roman Polanski. A director is expected to be attached in the next two months. Tse told Daily Variety the medieval-era drama will be budgeted in the $10 million-$15 million region. Pic has been partially financed from private investors in Japan. Additional investors are being approached from both Europe and the U.S. Los Angeles-based company the Film Library is handling sales.
* * *Mayfair Entertainment Intl. has picked up ”The Big One,” Michael Moore’s latest sendup of corporate America, from BBC Prods. Like his 1989 documentary ”Roger and Me,” Moore’s new film consists of interviews with unemployed workers and culminates in a confrontation with a corporate chieftain. In ”Big One,” he cajoles Nike Inc. CEO Phil Knight into explaining why his company manufactures its pricey sneakers outside the U.S. Moore shot the pic last fall while touring to promote his book ”Downsize This! Random Threats From an Unarmed American.” He completed the pic a week ago and arrived in Cannes over the weekend with only one print.