Meridian primes pic sked

Dong makes a difference at fest

CANNES — A glittering Cannes slate headed by Terence Chang and Barrie Osborne projects marks the international coming out of Chinese textiles millionaire David Dong.

Dong’s Shanghai-based company, Meridian Pictures Group, took its first step into the film biz last year when it provided $3 million of the $15 million budget for Tsui Hark’s “Seven Swords.”

Meridian has ambitions to become a major studio group with top-name helmers from greater China under long-term contracts, and has retained the Beijing division of CAA to advise and scout projects.

First deal of this kind is with Hong Kong-based crime specialist Johnnie To, whose “Election 2” appears out of competition this week in Cannes. Although most of To’s recent films have been produced through Milky Way Image, To’s new contract with Meridian will see him deliver three or four big-budget pics over six years, starting in 2007.

Meridian has also boarded “Butterfly Flies,” which To is now prepping for Milky Way and newcomer Sundream Motion Pictures. “Butterfly” will mark Meridian’s bow as a Mainland distributor.

Chang, John Woo’s long-time producer and business partner, will exec produce “Hua Mulan” with thesp Michelle Yeoh and Dong. Story draws on the same Chinese folk war tale of a female resistance fighter as Mouse House’s animated feature “Mulan.” Screenplay by Wang Hui-ling (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and forthcoming Woo project “The Battle of Red Cliff”) is owned by Yeoh, who previously aimed to produce under her own shingle.

Yeoh has abandoned plans to star and will instead share exec credits with Chang and Dong. Chinese-language pic’s budget is pegged at $20 million, with delivery skedded for late 2007.

“The Lord of the Rings” and “The Matrix” producer Osborne will deliver Meridian’s biggest-budget title, the $40 million “Princess of Luolan.” Pic is an action epic set in a country in eastern China that disappeared more than 1,000 years ago. Meridian has approached A-list international directors and aims to deliver by early 2009.

Meridian’s sales effort is headed by former Kang Je Gyu exec Bill Hwang with Catherine Chen.

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