'Crazy Racer' to ride first

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

Production and distribution 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 young filmmaker who last year delivered Warner China Film’s biggest hit to date, the low-budget “Crazy Stone.” “Racer” will lense 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; such a structure is unique in China.

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

Han’s departure, combined with the 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 venture’s days were numbered.

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

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

“The feeling within China Film is now the (joint venture) 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 book set about the year that China “discovered” America. It has submitted for censor board approval the police drama “Ransom,” which Yang Jiang will helm; an animated feature that may be co-produced with Warner’s German arm; and a remake of a New Line movie, though the company would not be drawn on which one.

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

“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 23 million yuan ($3 million) at the mainland B.O., was co-produced by Andy Lau’s Hong Kong shingle Focus Films.

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