NEW YORK — Luc Besson and Jet Li, who recently decided to create an action vehicle for the martial artist, have greenlit the results. Bridget Fonda and Tcheky Karyo have signed to star with Li in “Kiss of the Dragon,” a $25 million Besson-financed film for which Fox is in talks to distribute in North American territories.
When the action film begins production in Paris this month, it will be like a reunion. Fonda starred in “Point of No Return,” the Americanized version of Besson’s breakout French film “La Femme Nikita,” in which Karyo also starred.
While Besson wrote the script with his “Fifth Element” collaborator Robert Mark Kamen, and will closely oversee shooting, he’s brought aboard as director Chris Nahon, a close Besson ally and a director of commercials and videos in France. Nahon will share behind-the-camera duties with Corey Yuen, who’ll be listed as action director. Yuen, who has directed over 20 Hong Kong action films, choreographed the fight scenes in Li’s first big American vehicle, “Lethal Weapon 4,” as well as “X-Men,” and was action director on the Li pic “Romeo Must Die.” He also directed the Joel Silver-produced UPN pilot “Freedom.”
Plot is being kept under a chokehold, but the collaboration between Li and Luc came out of an idea by Li and an intention to marry Li’s Hong Kong pic “Fist of Legend” with Besson’s “The Professional.” The film’s a coproduction between Besson’s Leeloo and Li’s Qian Yang Intl. banners and Immortal Ent.
Besson is producing with Li, Steve Chasman and Happy Walters. Li, whose price is now at $5 million, has also been offered a boatload of bucks to play Kato in “The Green Hornet” for Universal, and is expected to join Andy and Larry Wachowski and Keanu Reeves in the sequels for “The Matrix.”
Li’s repped by Immortal’s Steve Chasman and attorneys David Feldman and Jake Bloom. Fonda, who’s repped by IFA Talent Agency, will next be seen with Brendan Fraser in the Fox pic “Monkeybone.”
A “DRAGONFLY” ENCOUNTER? How tough is it these days to mount a movie with A-list stars that doesn’t fit into a cookie cutter genre? “Dragonfly,” to be directed by Tom Shadyac, has long been considered one of the best unmade scripts in Hollywood. The pic’s suddenly become vibrant with the prospect of Kevin Costner playing a grieving doc who feels he’s being contacted by the spirit of his ex-wife through the near-death experiences of his patients. It’s “Field of Dreams” meets “The Sixth Sense” and plays to Costner’s strengths. But can it make money if it costs about $80 million? That’s the key question several potential backers are pondering.
The Mark Johnson-produced drama, scripted by Brandon Camp and Mike Thompson and rewritten by David Seltzer, was a coproduction between MGM (domestic territories) and Universal (foreign territorities). MGM wanted Costner to cut his $15 million price and Shadyac to cut his take into backend-heavy deals, but after weeks of back and forth, that studio looks likely to exit domestic distributor, though it holds a small position from its development cost investment. U’s still bullish, despite a brutal experience with Costner on “For Love of the Game,” in which studio execs traded barbs with the star and his work on the film’s final cut, which became the prime focus of press coverage on the underperforming baseball pic. U is talking with other backers, including Beacon Communications. MGM could still return as a partner, because, with possible strikes next year, things change daily in the current wheeling and dealing frenzy.
ICON GRAVES DESIRE: Another project quickly taking shape is “Eliza Graves,” a Joe Gangemi-scripted drama that Icon Prods. is looking to set up. The film, based on an Edgar Alan Poe short story, revolves around a medical student beginning a residency at an insane asylum right after the Civil War. He does not realize that the patients have taken over the ward. At the heart of the film is an unlikely love story between a patient and the doc.
The film is shaping up as the next directing effort for Mike Van Diem, who made a debut with “Character” and is available after exiting the Universal/Beacon drama “Spy Game.” Ian McKellen is in negotiations to star in the film, and an offer is out to “The Patriot” star Heath Ledger, though sources caution that while Ledger is sweet on the project, he’s got several other offers for the slot after he finishes “Four Feathers.” The film is being produced by Bruce Davey and Mel Gibson, who hope to start production early next year in Europe.
Van Diem is repped by Brad Gross of Sanford Gross, McKellan’s repped by ICM’s Chris Andrews and Ledger by CAA.
WELCOME TO MEXICO!: “Collateral Damage” is the name of the Warner Bros. action film shooting in Mexico with Arnold Schwarzenegger and director Andy Davis. It’s also a good characterization of what happened on the set, according to sources. Two trucks were hijacked this week by armed bandits, who walked away with 500,000 feet of raw film, and other expensive elements like computers and TV monitors. The drivers were apparently unharmed.
CASTINGS: Brendan Gleeson has gotten starring roles in the Steven Spielberg-directed “A.I.” and the Martin Scorsese-directed “Gangs of New York.” The Irish actor, most recently seen in “Mission: Impossible 2,” recently wrapped the John Boorman-directed “The Tailor of Panama.” He’s repped by Joan Scott of Writers & Artists … Gabriel Macht has joined Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman in “Behind Enemy Lines,” the John Moore-directed pic that starts shooting Oct. 9 in Slovakia. He’s currently costarring with Colin Farrell and Scott Caan in “Jesse James,” the Morgan Creek western. He’s repped by UTA and 3 Arts’ Jeff Golenberg …. Lena Headey, most recently seen in “Gossip,” has landed starring roles in two pics: the John Duigan-directed “The Parole Officer,” and the Neil LaBute-directed “Possession.” She’s repped by CAA and U.K.-based Lou Coulson.
MAC TO UTA: Bernie Mac, appearing in the recent Spike Lee-directed hit docu “The Original Kings of Comedy,” has signed for movie and TV work with UTA. Mac is starring with Martin Lawrence and Danny DeVito in “What’s The Worst That Could Happen” and developing “Deadbeat Dad Detective” at MGM, is being courted for an overall TV deal by several studios. He’s managed by Union.