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DreamWorks gets its ‘Hands’ in superhero mix

NEW TWIST ON HERO GENRE: As spandex-clad movie heroes proliferate, studios want more than tights, cape and superpowers. So how about a superhero pic best described as “The Godfather” with martial arts?

“The Hands of Shang Chi,” a new Marvel Comics-derived project just set at DreamWorks. “Band of Brothers” scribe Bruce McKenna is writing the script. Directing is Woo-ping Yuen, whose choreography on the “Matrix” films and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” makes him the Ballanchine of chopsocky. The pic’s set in China.

“A young kung fu master learns his father is the worst criminal in the world and the drama becomes ‘The Godfather’ in reverse, because Shang Chi doesn’t want to be like Michael Corleone,” said McKenna, who toured China with the director. “There’s this contemporary world of Chinese billionaire industrialists, but it’s a bit like the Wild West or the robber baron era because the influence of the mafia is so strong.”

Marvel’s movie maven, Avi Arad, wouldn’t comment as deals were being set, but DreamWorks’ Michael De Luca said he and Arad hope to replicate “Blade,” an obscure strip turned into a cutting-edge franchise. “We want it reasonably priced, visually distinctive and totally cool,” De Luca said. That’s in keeping with a rash of Marvel pics like “Ghost Rider” and “The Punisher.” That counter-programming spirit was taken to the extreme when Artisan hooked Michael Mann to direct “Tonight, He Comes,” a non-Marvel story about a superhero who smokes, drinks and womanizes during an existential crisis in Sheepshead Bay.

A VERY GOOD YEAR: Lose a lucky horseshoe? Check the desk drawer of Casey La Scala. The Gaylord Films production prexy sums up a remarkable year with this rapid-fire burst: “In the last nine months, I got married, we got pregnant, we just had a baby boy, I directed a $6 million movie that was supposed to be on 200 screens but will go this summer on more than 2,000. And I just closed deal to write, direct and produce another movie for a potential seven-figures.”

As an exec, La Scala always helps write stories for Gaylord development projects. His writer-director rise was a total surprise. It stems from “Grind,” a Gaylord-financed pic he directed. It began as a skateboarding docu and morphed into a roadtrip comedy. Warner Bros. planned a 200-screen release. Until they tested it. “My whole life was changed by that test,” he said. “The scores were so high that everybody said ‘huh?’ They were as high the second test, and it was amazing to watch the Warner Bros. machine take over. As Dan Fellman was telling me we’d open Aug. 15 on between 2,000 and 3,000 screens, I’m thinking, ‘is he really talking about this film I shot for $6 million?'” Gaylor topper Hunt Lowry and WB followed by giving La Scala and Todd Samovitz a mid-six figure deal for a pic La Scala will direct this fall. He described it as a class clash in Las Vegas, framed around motorcycle stunt riding.

ROCKYESQUE: Madeleine Stowe and Sylvester Stallone have more in common than you’d think. Just as Stallone wouldn’t sell his “Rocky” script until allowed to lace up the gloves, Stowe’s taking a similar stand on a script she wrote. “Unbound Captive” is a period Western she wrote under the name O.C. Humphrey, about a mother who engages a tracker to help find her kids after Indians kidnapped them. Dish hears the script’s good enough that it has tempted Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe. Complicating things is the fact Stowe wrote the lead for herself. Her best role came alongside Daniel Day-Lewis in the period epic “Last of the Mohicans,” but most top helmers like to make the casting decisions.

CAMEO SWAYZE: While the Cuban-themed “Dirty Dancing” sequel “Havana Nights” doesn’t seem to have a lot in common with its predecessor, there will be a glimpse of a very familiar dance instructor. Dish hears Patrick Swayze can be seen in a dance floor cameo, telling the new dirty dancers to “Have the time of your lives.”

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