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Emerging on indie scene with ‘Fei’

Film tells story of half sisters in love with the same man

SHANGHAI — Indie shingle Emerging Pictures recently wrapped principal photography in the northern Chinese coastal city of Qingdao, on “Fei,” the first production it will handle from concept through release. Pic is on schedule for a 2004 release on the mainland.

Directed by Ann Hu, film tells the story of a pair of half sisters in love with the same man. Starring Wang Zhiwen (“Together”), and Zhou Xun (“Suzhou River”) and Vivian Wu (“The Pillow Book”) as the rival sisters, pic has enough name recognition to stand a good chance of reasonable B.O. in China, with visions of a subsequentStateside release. Pic is being produced by Chen Zhen and exec produced by L.A.-based thesp Lisa Lu, who also stars.

The crew was a mix of locals and Americans, with key positions including camera operator, d.p. and artistic director held by imported staff. The setup is in line with recent Sino-foreign co-productions including Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” and Michael Winterbottom’s “Code 46.”

Post-production will continue in New York with U.S. editors.

Co-productions in China have traditionally required the participation of one of the major state-run studios, and “Fei” is no exception, in a deal that includes the China Film Group’s production wing and Hong Kong-based Chinachem. Regulations that just took effect Jan. 1 permit foreign productions to work with local independent companies, providing those companies have already made two Film Bureau-approved movies.

Hu’s last film, “Shadow Magic,” which was also a co-production filmed in China, with sales handled by Emerging, did only moderate business in the U.S. despite winning a Golden Rooster award at China’s biggest film ceremony and premiering at the Sundance Film Festival.

Hu predicts “Fei” — based on a English-lingo screenplay penned by American scribes Beth Schacter and Michael Eldridge and subsequently translated into Chinese by the director herself — will do better B.O. than “Magic,” a historical film with themes of personal growth.

“I think ‘Fei’ will have more audience internationally than ‘Shadow Magic,’ since the subject matter (love and sex) … is more universal,” Hu tells Variety, adding that she also expects the pic to do well on its home turf. “Ihave been receiving good bids from various local distributors,” she says.

Hu was one of the first-generation of Chinese to relocate to the U.S. following the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, when restrictions on travel abroad were relaxed. She pursued a career in commodities trading before studying film at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in the early ’90s.

Hu says she and Emerging next plan to make an English-language film.

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