Setting a ‘Banquet’

Feng teams with 'Crouching Tiger' trio

Chinese helmer Feng Xiaogang is putting together his cast and crew for “Ye yan” (Banquet), his biggest-budget movie to date.

Pic is a period dish loosely inspired by William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Casting has yet to be announced.

Feng (“A World Without Thieves,” “Cell Phone”) has corralled martial-arts specialist Yuen Wo Ping as action choreographer and executive producer, Tan Dun as composer and Tim Yip as art director.

Trio worked on Ang Lee’s hit “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” with Yip and Tan picking up Academy Awards for their efforts. “Thieves” cinematographer Zhang Li will reprise his role on “Banquet.”

Film is being put together by Huayi Brothers Film Investment, one of China’s most aggressive production and distribution shingles, on an estimated $15 million budget.

Huayi (“Kung Fu Hustle,” “Thieves”) expects to structure the film as an international co-production with likely Japanese and Korean equity investors. This would cut the coin to be raised from China while also potentially lessening the local censorship strictures.

“Banquet” is set to shoot in late September or early October with a five-month lensing schedule. That puts it on course to miss Chinese New Year, traditionally the plum slot for local-language blockbusters.

But in a sign of growing flexibility in the sclerotic distribution sector, a Huayi spokesman said, “We hope to create a whole new hot-screening season other than the year-end period by releasing ‘The Banquet’ in summer 2006.”

Post-“Banquet,” Feng, who recently became a partner in Huayi, is planning a radical change in genre. He’s prepping an untitled piece based on a true story set in China in the late ’40s and ’50s.

Huayi, which recently sold a 35% equity stake to Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing’s Tom Group, also is readying the $20 million manga adaptation “Battle of Wisdom” with helmer Jacob Cheung and star Andy Lau for an October start.

In July it expects to start “The Ghost Inside,” a period drama with mainland helmer Teng Hua-tao directing Hong Kong’s Leon Lai and Taiwan’s Rene Liu.

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