'Protege ,' 'Crossroad' among pix to be produced

HONG KONG — Universe Films is ramping up its bigscreen offerings with plans to make 12 to 15 films this year — and its investing in bigger-budget productions than before.

The Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (Cepa), which loosens import requirements on Chinese-language films, is “absolutely an influencing factor in the larger investments,” says Koris Ha, Universe’s distribution manager.

Among the offerings is “Protege de la Rose Noire,” helmed by Donnie Yen and Barbara Wong. The HK$30 million ($3.8 million) action comedy is about two girls, played by pop-star twins Gillian Chung and Charlene Choi, who are accidentally picked up and trained by the famous heroine Black Rose. Set to bow in early February, the pic has been pre-sold by Universe in the Asia-Pacific region. Universe is shopping for a buyer in the U.S. and Europe.

“Crossroad,” a police action drama budgeted at $2.5 million, will be directed by Derek Yee and star Daniel Wu and Cecilia Cheung. And a $3.2 million actioner with the working title “Heat Team” will be helmed by Dante Lam (“The Twins Effect”) and feature Canto-pop superstars Aaron Kwok and Eason Chan. Currently in post-production and set for a March release, Universe is targeting foreign buyers with this film.

Another action pic starring Aaron Kwok, “Divergence,” with a $5 million budget will be directed by Benny Chan (“Gen-X Cops”) and begin shooting in July.

Additionally, Universe has lined up twin brothers Oxide and Danny Pang (“The Eye”) for a $2.3 million pic each. Oxide Pang will helm thriller “Abnormal Beauty,” starring Gillian Chung and Joey Yung. Danny Pang will direct action comedy “Leave Me Alone,” featuring Charlene Choi and Ekin Cheng.

Meanwhile, in its biggest distribution deal on another company’s behalf, Universe Films has signed on as worldwide distrib of “Goddess of Mercy,” a film produced by Century Hero Film Investment Co., Beijing Chenchenyinglian Film & TV Co. and China Film Group Beijing Film Studio. The pic, based on the well-known novel of the same name, is directed by Ann Hui. It stars Vicki Zhao and Nicholas Tse.

Universe is arranging a Tokyo screening next week and is currently looking for Korean and U.S. buyers.

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