Warner China greenlights slate

First up is 'Crazy Racer'

Warner China Film, the joint venture between Warner Bros. and state-owned conglom China Film Group, is greenlighting a package of movies for production in China.

Production and distribution joint venture, which also involves the giant Hengdian studios, has been beset by rumors that it is about to be shuttered. Confirmation of production spree is intended to demonstrate that the unique venture is alive and functional after a recent hiatus.

First up is “Crazy Racer,” an action comedy to be helmed by Ning Hao, the youngster who last year delivered Warner China Film’s biggest hit to date, the low-budget “Crazy Stone.” “Racer” will lens in July and is set for delivery by Chinese New Year in early 2008.

WCF has also signed a three pic, first-look deal with Ning, a structure that is unique in China.

“We expect this business model to give us long term returns,” said Han San Ping, the outgoing head of the JV.

Han’s departure, combined with ankling of Zhao Haicheng, China Film’s rep on the board of directors, and a shift in responsibilities for Warner Bros VP Ellen Eliasoph, had given rise to widespread discussion that the JV’s days were numbered.

Eliasoph is skedded to become a commuter between Beijing and Washington, D.C., where her husband has recently taken a job in the State Department. She will drop her responsibilities for distribution in China and focus only on local production.

Han said that WCF is looking for a new topper — likely, but not certain, to be a Chinese national. Vacancy occurs after promotion of Han to chairman of China Film Group, replacing Yang Buting from June. He is unable to handle strategic matters while also running a production shingle. Zhao has followed him to China Film.

“The feeling within China Film is now that the JV is going to be unique. ‘Crazy Stone’ has helped me personally and we will be experimenting with many more different genres. (WCF) has helped to professionalize the Chinese film industry,” Han said.

Company is also poised to greenlight “1421,” an adaptation of the Gavin Menzies novel set in the year that China ‘discovered’ America. It has submitted for censor board approval “Ransom,” a police drama to be helmed by Yang Jiang; an animated feature that may be co-produced with Warner’s German arm; and a remake of a New Line movie.

Outfit is also an investor in “The Warlords,” a $40 million period actioner that is helmed by Peter Chan Ho-sun and produced by Chan and Andre Morgan. Last year it was involved in co-production of Finnish-Chinese co-prod “Jade Warrior” and Edward Norton-starrer “The Painted Veil.”

Although it repeats the word “crazy” in its title, “Crazy Racer” is not a sequel to “Crazy Stone.” Instead of incompetent thieves, it features express delivery men, traffic cops and lonely beauties. “Stone,” which garnered $3 million (Yuan 23 million) at mainland B.O. was co-produced by Andy Lau’s Hong Kong shingle Focus Films.

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