Zhang Ziyi to star in $35 million pic

BEIJING — Action helmer Jan de Bont has signed up to direct Chinese thesp Zhang Ziyi in a new English-language, $35 million live-action version of the folk story “Mulan,” which its makers hope will wow auds both in China and beyond.

Zhang will also co-produce the indie project, alongside Beaver Kwei and Ling Lucas, who collaborated with her on her successful romantic comedy “Sophie’s Revenge” last year. Also involved are Movie Plus Prods. of Canada, Blighty’s Global Film Finance, Beijing-based Bona Intl. Film Group and Salon Intl. Media Fund Pictures.

“She wants to participate creatively in the project,” Kwei told Variety. “The ambition is to appeal to both foreign and domestic audiences. ‘Forbidden Kingdom’ is the model and it shows that it works. “Mulan” is accessible for a Western audience,” he said.

Lensing starts in Hangdian Studios in Zhejiang province in November, and post-production will take place in Canada.

As reported in Daily Variety from the Shanghai Film Festival in June, Chuck Russell was originally in the frame as helmer. The Dutch-born De Bont’s other works include “Speed,” “Twister,” “The Haunting” and “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.”

“Mulan,” which is a bit like “Robin Hood” crossed with “Maid of Orleans,” was made famous worldwide by the 1998 Disney animation, and there was another live-action version by Hong Kong helmer Jingle Ma last year. The 6th century text is a key element of Chinese folklore.

Zhang, who first made international waves with her role in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and was in the Oscar-nominated “Hero.” She scored a big domestic hit in China last year with her romantic comedy “Sophie’s Revenge,” helmed by Eva Jin. Zhang plays an HIV-Aids sufferer in Gu Changwei’s forthcoming “A Tale of Magic.”

Original script is by screenwriter John Blickstead and a team of five writers has been engaged to make sure the pic works both in Asia and outside.

William Morris Endeavor will handle North American rights to “Mulan,” while Arclight Films Intl. unit Easternlight Films will handle sales outside of the North America and Greater China.

The list of executive producers includes Paul Edwards, Jeffrey Chan of Bona Intl., Fred Wang of Salon Films and Jeff Kranzdorf.

Individual “Mulan” producers include Steve Waterman, Mark Phillips, Chris Brough and Ron Lynch from Movie Plus.

Bona Intl.’s Beijing-based parent company Polybona will distribute the film in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, said Chan.

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