AFM: ‘Skiptrace’ Chases China Co-Prod Crossover Dream

Action comedy “Skiptrace,” which starts production in January, is a chase around some of the most exotic parts of China featuring Jackie Chan, Fan Bingbing and Seann William Scott. The venture is also a front-runner chase for the so-far largely elusive goal of finding a true crossover film for China and international markets.

Several speakers at Tuesday’s U.S.-China Film Summit explained the substantial obstacles that stand in the way of such an ambition. These include the need for English dialogue in order to trigger international sales as a commercial film, rather than an arthouse or festival title; relevance to China’s increasingly young and sophisticated audiences; enough Chinese elements to satisfy its co-production regulators; and storytelling techniques that steer a middle course between cultures.

“How many Chinese stories are there that Americans understand? Probably only Rob Minkoff’s ‘Forbidden Kingdom’ has really worked,” said USC professor Stanley Rosen. Yet “Skiptrace” may have the best chance in a while.

The English-language picture is on course to be a full U.S.-Chinese co-production with Exclusive Media and Dasym (formerly Cyrte Investments) and China’s Talent Intl. as the partners.

Like “Forbidden Kingdom,” it stars Chan, possibly China’s only truly global film star, and like the “Rush Hour” franchise it sets him in one half of a comedic buddy pairing.

Indeed the pic is a long-cherished passion project that originated from Chan — his “love note to China,” according to Dasym’s Charlie Coker.

“This is Talent Intl.’s IP, which we’ve co-developed,” Coker says. Talent Intl. will handle the Chinese release, while the Dasym-backed Exclusive Media is selling the picture internationally.

Underlining the picture’s new-era financing and appeal, Exclusive, Dasym and Talent have agreed to cross-collateralize the returns from their territories in order to ensure that the picture does not skew too heavily either to China or to international. And while the budget and salaries have not been not disclosed, Coker said Chan is “properly incentivized,” something that should mean his charm offensive will be launched in multiple territories long before completion.

Exclusive’s Marc Schipper said “Skiptrace” has assembled a substantial portion of its budget from pre-sales.

Jackie Chan is a big draw in many parts of the world, but we don’t have big pre-sales expectations for the big Western territories. In those we hope to make up at the box office. And Fan Bingbing is now one of the biggest female stars, with strong followings in Latin America and Europe, for whom she represents the face of L’Oreal and Louis Vuitton,” Schipper said. “Like Jackie’s ‘Chinese Zodiac,’ we can make this a success in much of the world, without the U.S. being aware of it. We go into the AFM having pre-sold most territories, with a few core Western territories still open and holding back on the U.S,” he added.

With the film’s string of locations running from Hong Kong to Macau, a healthy collection of local characters and plentiful use of Chinese crew members, Coker is confident that “Skiptrace” will be well in excess of China’s local content requirements.

WME is representing North American rights.

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