Li, Statham sign up for Atwell-directed pic

Lionsgate will pair action stars Jet Li and Jason Statham in “Rogue,” a drama to be directed by Philip G. Atwell.

“Rogue” is ambitious by Lionsgate’s usual budget standards, but the company is looking to continue momentum created by such recent genre hits as “Saw II” and “Hostel.”

Li will play the title character, an assassin who has caused a bloody crime war between rival Asian mobs. Statham plays an FBI agent determined to bring down the killer after his partner is murdered.

Lionsgate international prexy Nick Meyer said the film will be a major title for the distributor at the Berlin Film Festival.

Thanks in part to the presence of the China-born Li and the British Statham, pic could help Lionsgate build its international arm.

“There is a large appetite in the international marketplace for them,” Meyer said. “We’ve made a big commitment but feel this film is franchisable and could be a big win for us. It will be one of our tentpoles for next year, and we’re keeping the U.K. as well as domestic rights as we grow our company.”

Steve Chasman, Christopher Petzel and Jim Thompson will produce. Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J. Bradley wrote the script.

Cory Yuen will be the film’s martial arts action designer. Production will begin this spring.

Li and Statham appeared together once before, in “The One.” Chasman, who produced that film, said plans for them to fight had to be scrapped due to budget.

Still, Chasman and Yuen were impressed by Statham’s mixed martial arts abilities. They talked him up to Luc Besson, who hatched “The Transporter” franchise, the first installment of which Yuen directed.

Statham, who at that point had been regarded for his comic sensibilities in Guy Ritchie’s rough and tumble films, was suddenly reinvented as an action star. Li, meanwhile, has diversified from straight action with his work in the Zhang Yimou-directed “Hero” and “Unleashed.”

Lionsgate production prexy Michael Paseornek will oversee production on “Rogue” with senior veep John Sacchi. Stephanie Denton, Lionsgate’s president of international film sales, brought the project in.

Atwell makes his feature debut on the film after directing videos for the likes of Eminem and 50 Cent, as well as episodes of “The Shield.”

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