Weinstein hands back rights on Oscar hopeful

Two days before its U.S. bow, the Chinese film “The Promise” has changed distribution plans.

Last May, the Weinstein Co. pacted for North American rights to Chen Kaige’s film, with plans to release it under the title “Master of the Crimson Armor.” Pic opens Friday in Los Angeles for a one-week Oscar-qualifying run.

Now international production-sales shingle Moonstone Entertainment and China Film Group will handle that one-week engagement and will resume control of the film domestically, as well as in the U.K., Australia and South Africa. No deal with an alternate U.S. or U.K. distributor has so far been reached.

People close to the pic, a $30 million fantasy actioner, said its producers had been pushing for Oscar campaigning in major categories, in addition to its possible foreign-pic berth. Film is China’s official entry for the foreign-language Academy Award.

The ambitious Oscar hopes did not fit into the awards plans for the Weinstein Co., which is pushing such films as “Mrs. Henderson Presents” and “Transamerica.”

“We have thoroughly enjoyed working together for the past seven months and have reached an amicable decision to part ways on ‘Master of the Crimson Armor,’ ” Harvey Weinstein said of the decision. “That said, we have tremendous respect for Chen Kaige, (Moonstone prexy) Etchie Stroh and (China Film Corp. managing director) Han Sanping and are all rooting for them as they go forward releasing this film.”

“The Promise” is available in two versions. A 121-minute film opened to boffo boxoffice in China, while the version that opens this week is 97 minutes long. The “Crimson Armor” title has been jettisoned, and both versions will screen under the title “The Promise.”

While the longer version is the Oscar hopeful, the shorter version is nominated as a foreign film contender at the upcoming Golden Globes. Revised version includes a new beginning and a modified ending to reshape the pic for Western tastes.

“I have always respected Harvey’s experience and expertise in marketing films from a different culture for the U.S. market,” Stroh said. “We are grateful for all the work that the Weinstein Co. put in over many months to create a perfect version of the film for a U.S. release, and we plan to push (the pic) in most eligible categories for this year’s Academy Awards.”

The film was produced by Sanping, Stroh and Chen Hong. Cast includes Hiroyuki Sanada, Jang Dong-Kun, Cecilia Cheung, Nicholas Tse, Chen Hong and Liu Ye.

In China, the longer version brought in some $2 million on its opening day, Dec. 14. Pic is expected to take in $16 million-$25 million in its homeland.

Filed Under:

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