Besson lines up with Li for martial arts pic

Luc Besson will write, produce and finance a film to star Hong Kong turned Hollywood action star Jet Li that will marry elements of Besson’s “The Professional” with “Fist of Legend,” one of Li’s best-known Hong Kong films.

Though the film doesn’t yet have a title, it has a fall start date and will be the “Romeo Must Die” star’s next film. It’s unclear who will direct at this point, as Besson’s participation is limited to writing and producing.

The pic’s a coproduction between Besson’s Leeloo and Li’s Qian Yang Intl. banners and Immortal Entertainment, with Besson, Li, Steve Chasman and Happy Walters producing. While Besson’s keeping the plot under wraps, sources said the pic will be highly visual and feature plenty of Li’s martial arts work, though the fight scenes will be more realistic than the gravity-defying variety seen in “The Matrix” and “Romeo Must Die.” Corey Yuen, who did martial arts choreography on “Lethal Weapon 4,” “Romeo Must Die” and “X-Men,” will direct the action sequences.

The film came about as the result of a meeting between Besson and Li. Li came up with the idea, Besson sparked to it, and set to work on the script. As he often does, Besson is putting up the mid-size budget himself, with plans for distribution territories to be sold off later on. Though his last directorial effort “The Messenger” was not a hit in the U.S., it grossed well overseas, and the Besson-scripted and produced “Taxi 2” has broken box office records in France, grossing more than $60 million there, with an English language remake set up at Fox.

The Honk Kong action veteran Li made his U.S. debut in “Lethal Weapon 4,” and emerged as a bankable action star in “Romeo Must Die.” He’s been courted for such films as “The Green Hornet,” playing the Kato role originated by Bruce Lee, and sequels to “The Matrix,” though the latter is still being scripted and it’s unclear what Li’s participation might be. Li’s also starring in “The First King” for “Romeo” producer Joel Silver at WB. Li is repped by Immortal’s Steve Chasman and attorneys David Feldman and Jake Bloom.

A GOLDEN PROMOTION: David Brown is, by his own account, Hollywood’s oldest active producer at age 84, and he’s as busy as ever. One reason he continues to be prolific is because of Kit Golden, an exec who joined his Manhattan Project nine years ago right out of NYU Film School. Brown’s rewarded her by naming Golden president of his company, and getting to produce films that she develops with him. That begins with the currently in production Lasse Hallstrom-directed fantasy “Chocolat,” which stars Johnny Depp, Juliette Binoche and Alfred Molina, and continues with “Romanoff,” a Manhattan Project film coming together at Miramax about how restaurateur Mike Romanoff charmed his way into Hollywood in the 1940s by claiming he was part of the Russian royal family. By the time his invention was uncovered, Romanoff found he was still accepted in a town where nobody is who they claim to be. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who did the docu “Chasen’s,” is writing and directing.

Golden has been long known in Gotham circles as a strong and tasteful tracker of material like “Angela’s Ashes,” and her efforts have allowed Brown to be prolific in other avenues. Brown just produced with Joe Wizan the Lee Tamahori-directed “Kiss the Girls” sequel “Along Came A Spider,” and with former partner Richard Zanuck, Brown is producing the DreamWorks drama “The Ninth Man,” which has been offered to director Martin Campbell and Matt Damon.

After producing for the stage “A Few Good Men” and the Truman Capote play “Tru,” Brown has several Hollywood-related plays headed for the stage. Nicholas Hytner will direct “The Sweet Smell of Success,” which Brown is producing with the original pic’s writer, Ernest Lehman. Brown is teamed with Lewis Allen on a one-man play about Sam Goldwyn entitled “Sam,” and Brown is also producing a play about bespectacled superagent Swifty Lazar written and directed by Christopher Hart.

WHITE HOUSE INSPIRATION: Among the many novels being considered for Hollywood treatment is one written by a familiar name, inspired by a familiar face. “Tender is LeVine,” which St. Martin’s Press will release in January, is the first novel written in years by writer/director Andrew Bergman, who began his career as a novelist with two previous mysteries centered around Jack LeVine, a Chandleresque detective from the ’40s era. Bergman stopped novelizing when he became a director, but his mystery series was revived by none other than President Bill Clinton. “After Clinton got elected in 1992, a friend was meeting him and I knew that he had been a fan of ‘Honeymoon in Vegas’ and I gave him a Flying Elvis hat,” said Bergman. “Four days later, I got back a handwritten note, but instead of the movie, the President was going on about how much he’d loved one of the earlier novels, ‘Hollywood and LeVine.’ My friend said he was quoting it chapter and verse. I figured, if the president of the United States thinks I should write another one, maybe I should.” Bergman’s CAA agents are out with the book, which he might well adapt and direct. Bergman is still trying to make his next film “Ottoman Empire,” the comedy which had its plug pulled abruptly by Columbia despite having Keanu Reeves signed to play a porn legend-turned furniture salesman who is enlisted by the First Lady for a sexual liason after she tires of her husband’s philandering. Bergman said he’s not sending that script to Clinton.

Col’s interest in the project grew flaccid right after the Mike Nichols-directed sex comedy “What Planet Are You From?” flopped memorably. “It was absolute corporate insanity,” said Bergman. “It’s the funniest script I’ve written since ‘The Freshman’ and I’m pretty close to getting it financed on the independent route. But I lost Keanu, who was eager to do it and now won’t be available until after he does two “Matrix” films.” Col soured on doing another sex comedy, and Bergman admits his pic wasn’t cheap. “It wasn’t insanely expensive, but you couldn’t do it in front of a sheet, either,” he said. “Why they thought they could get an actor for $15 million then go and make a cheap movie is beyond me, as was the leap that you shouldn’t make a movie for adults starring Keanu Reeves just because you had one that failed with Garry Shandling. It was full bore panic.”

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