HONG KONG – China’s most successful film director Feng Xiaogang and “Four Weddings And A Funeral” producer Duncan Kenworthy from the U.K. are eyeing an English-language remake of Feng’s comedy drama “A World Without Thieves.”
Originally made in 2004 and set largely on a train, “Thieves” pits a pair of plucky professional thieves against a rougher bunch of gangsters, with both groups targeting a naïve village lad travelling home with his life savings in cash.
“In 2012 I spent a week with Feng Xiaogang in Chongqing while he shot ‘Back To 1942,’ and I said the concept of his movie ‘A World Without Thieves’ (which I’d seen in 2006) had really stayed with me and I thought it would be a great movie to adapt in English. And ideally he would direct it,” said Kenworthy, who heads Toledo Productions.
“So I did a deal with the Huayi Brothers [China's leading private sector film studio] to develop a new screenplay in English, based actually on the novella on which Xiaogang’s film was itself based, and we now have a first draft.
“I describe it, intriguingly but not completely accurately, as a cross between Richard Curtis and Quentin Tarantino. It’s a redemption action story about two bad people and a nine year old child.”
Feng has not officially announced his next directorial effort after the recent hit “Personal Tailor,” which was released in Chinese theaters in December and grossed $115 million.
Huayi, which has backed and produced most of Feng’s films and which was a co-producer on “Thieves,” confirmed that the project is currently “in development.”
“I’m talking about it to Xiaogang and the Huayi Brothers, but there’s no financial commitment and no commitment that Xiaogang will direct it, let alone make it his next film. But I make no secret of the fact that I want to produce his first English language film. I think he’s an amazing talent,” Kenworthy told Variety.
Feng previously had a taste of working with an English-language cast, when he made the 2001 film “Big Shot’s Funeral” with Donald Sutherland. Feng also featured Tim Robbins and Adrien Brody in his 2012 “Back To 1942,” a famine drama that was one of his few box office disappointments.
If the remake is to go ahead it may be one of the first to be structured as a British-Chinese co-production. The text of a bilateral co-production treaty has been agreed by the relevant ministries in the two countries, but has not yet been signed, published or ratified. A visit to China last year by British Prime Minister David Cameron is understood to have helped seal an agreement in principle.
The two film-makers met when they were both on the jury of the Shanghai film festival in 2006, and stayed friends since then, partly because they have similar taste in movies. Feng has publicly expressed his admiration for the Kenworthy-produced film “Notting Hill” on many occasions.
Feng is currently in the U.K. with Huayi co-chief James Wang, where they are attending a British Film Institute-sponsored season of Feng films, including a gala presentation on Friday of “1942.”