Over 900 hours of puppet artistry already produced

“Thunder Force,” a martial-arts puppet series that sparked a nationwide phenomenon in Taiwan, has been picked up by international film financier Distant Horizon for worldwide distribution.

With its acquisition, the company now hopes to turn a centuries-old Taiwanese wooden hand puppet tradition into the next big global pop culture frenzy.

Distant Horizon prexy Anant Singh describes “Thunder Force” as a cross between “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and 1960s space-oriented cult puppet fave “The Thunderbirds.”

In the U.S., Singh has pacted with New York-based Distant Corners Entertainment Group — led by ex-Artisan exec John Hegeman, who helped market “The Blair Witch Project” — and the William Morris Agency to exploit the franchise.

‘Unique’ property

“This is one of the most unique properties we have ever come across,” said Singh, whose company has distributed films such as Jet Li’s “Black Mask.” His company also produces “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in South Africa.

“Its multiplatform potential in the international marketplace is possibly stronger than ‘Pokemon’ or ‘Ninja Turtles,’ ” he said. ” ‘Thunder Force’ is an electrifying property.”

Show’s new incarnation will be produced by Singh, Hegeman and Distant Horizon’s Brian Cox. Distant Horizon and Distant Corners plan to pitch the project to Hollywood studios and networks this week.

“It has that rare breakout appeal that everyone is looking for,” said WMA’s Ben Silverman. “This franchise will explode onto the American market and hopefully be defining for a whole new generation.”

“Thunder Force” was originally produced in Taiwan by PiLi Intl. and its CEO, Chris Huang, who’s a fourth-generation puppeteer. PiLi operates a 3,000-square-foot hand puppet studio in Huwei, Yunlin, Taiwan, and also runs a cable network devoted to puppetry and opera.

A forceful 900 hours

PiLi has produced more than 900 hours of “Thunder Force”-related programming. A modernized version of classic hand puppet shows — named for how the characters are manipulated by hand — “Thunder Force” focuses on traditional themes and feature complicated characters and conflict, all to a contemporary soundtrack.

Beyond the TV vehicle, Distant Horizon has also acquired a film based on the franchise “Legend of the Sacred Stone,” which PiLi produced last year. Distant Horizon is also in talks with toy companies about merchandising “Thunder Force” CD-ROM games, comicbooks, action figures, playing cards and other tie-ins.

Other Asian features distributed by Singh and company include Jackie Chan’s “Twin Dragons” and Japanese entries “Versus” and “Pulse.”

“Anant and Brian are involved in some ground-breaking properties out of the Asian marketplace,” Hegeman said. “I’m excited to join them in introducing the ‘Thunder Force’ franchise to a whole new audience.”

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more