Col may tie Lee to 'Houdini'; Golden Harvest still breathing

Columbia Pictures is hoping Ang Lee’s next trick following Good Machine’s “Ride With the Devil” will be “Houdini,” the high-profile biopic that has been unable to escape the chains of development and talent availability.

The helmer of such pics as “Ice Storm” and “Sense and Sensibility” is in talks with the studio, but no deal has been struck, Columbia reps said.

“Houdini,” which producer Ray Stark spent more than 10 years developing, focuses on a part of the master magician’s life when he went on a spiritual quest — stemming from a near-death experience during a trick gone awry.

Paul Verhoeven most recently had been attached to direct but dropped out a few months ago. Robert Zemeckis also had been associated with the project previously but exited to direct “Contact” for Warner Bros.

If a deal is made for Lee to helm “Houdini,” it is not clear when the film would begin production. The Taiwan-born Lee has said that after “Ride With the Devil,” he would direct the Chinese-lingo epic “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” on location in China.

Among the other projects on Lee’s slate is “Berlin Diaries,” which he is attached to direct for Good Machine.

– Chris Petrikin and Dan Cox

Despite reports to the contrary, Los Angeles-based Golden Harvest Films — best known for producing the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” franchise — will not be closing its doors, company execs insisted Tuesday.

The premature reports of Harvest’s demise followed the announcement of 60-70 layoffs at its Hong Kong-based parent, producer-distributor-exhibitor Golden Harvest Entertainment Co.

“The Hong Kong company is different,” claimed VP Roberta Chin. “They may well have laid some people off over there, but here we’re as busy as ever on a number of deals.” However, she did confirm that Los Angeles-based senior VP Tom Gray is no longer with the company. Chin said that Golden Harvest had decided “not to renew its contract” with Gray, who had served the distrib for 18 years.

According to Chin, Harvest remains active servicing post-production on various pics, handling worldwide distribution on Harvest films and third-party acquisitions, and repping the Golden Harvest library, which includes an extensive array of Jackie Chan titles, including his latest, “Who Am I?”

She denied that Golden Harvest had decided not to produce any more pics in the U.S., or that the termination of Gray’s contract had anything to do with the economic turmoil in Asia.

– Benedict Carver and Nick Madigan

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