'Catwoman' helmer boards Chinese CGI pic

Pitof, the French special f/x wizard and director of “Catwoman,” is poised to helm “Empires of the Deep,” an ultra-ambitious Chinese CGI film.

An English-language tale of mermaids, mermen and a hero who saves the world from an evil empire, pic was previously called “Mermaid Island.” It is being put together by China’s Fontelysee Pictures in collaboration with the Emagine Studio of Hollywood.

“We came up with an original story when we understood that every culture has its own ideas about mermaids. But we are pitching this as something like ‘Star Wars’ under the sea,” says Harrison Liang, Fontelysee CEO and the film’s producer.

Appropriately, given that ambition, Irvin Kershner, helmer of “Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back,” is attached as producer. Script is by Randall Frakes and Jiang Hongyu.Seemingly eclipsing even John Woo’s “Red Cliff” in budgetary scale, “Empires” will be made on a budget of $100 million, which Liang says is fully financed by Fontelysee founder Jiang Jon.

Companies have been preparing the CGI and effects for a couple of years and will move ahead next year with lensing the live-action sequences. Delivery is skedded for 2010.

“This film will be the calling card for our new CG company,” says Liang. “We have put together a team with people who have worked on ‘Ultraviolet,’ ‘A World Without Thieves,’ ‘Warriors of Heaven and Earth’ and who have done contract work for China Film Group.

“The picture is fully financed, so we don’t need money for the production, but we are at AFM looking for a North American deal and for a sales company and a few pre-sales of the kind that would allow us to give the film some position in the market.”

“Empires” would be Pitof’s third outing as director, though his f/x credits include “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc,” “Alien: Resurrection” and “The City of Lost Children.”

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