Li, Lau, Kaneshiro to star in 'Ci Ma'

China’s passion for period war epics shows no sign of abating as Asian thesps Jet Li, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro prep to don their Qing Dynasty armor for the $40 million-budget “Ci Ma” (This Violent Land).

At the helm will be Peter Ho-Sun Chan, fresh from directing the Golden Horse-winning “Perhaps Love.” Femme roles have yet to be cast.

“Ci Ma” is an heroic tale of three blood brothers and their struggle in the midst of war and political upheaval. It is based on “The Assassination of Ma,” a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) story about the killing of general Ma Xinyi. The story was filmed by Zhang Che in 1973 as “The Blood Brothers.”

“Ci Ma” follows the success of historical epics “Hero,” “The Banquet” and China’s foreign language Oscar hopeful “Curse of the Golden Flower.”

As with other recent big-budget Chinese movies, such as Jacob Cheung’s current “Battle of Wits,” which also stars Lau, pic is very much a pan-Asian production.

Among backers are Warner China Film HG, China Film Group, Hong Kong’s Media Asia Films, Morgan Chan Films, Beijing PolyBona Film Distribution, Beijing Jinyingma Movie, Chengtian Entertainment and Stellar Mega Film.

Arm Distribution and Media Asia Distribution will handle international sales, and pic is due to be released at the end of next year.

The three stars as well as China Film VP Han Sanping, John Chong of Media Asia and Andre Morgan of Morgan Chan Films were in Beijing Monday to sign contracts and start major photography.

Helmer Chan paid his respects to “The Blood Brothers,” but insisted “Ci Ma” will not be a remake.

“We want to produce a new take on the story based on human nature. For many years, I’ve dreamt about making a war movie, and this is a new challenge for me. We’re very excited and keen to get started,” he said.

Jet Li, who has promised to retire from chopsocky movies but shows little sign of doing so, said the movie is not about kung-fu. “It’s about friendship,” he added.

Locations will be Beijing, Shanghai and Hengdian. Art director will be Chung-Man Yee, stunts will be choreographed by Siu-Tung Ching, while cinematography will be by Arthur Wong.

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