You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Wild’ pic for Abraham

'Swans' finds film nest

LONDON — “Wild Swans,” Jung Chang’s non-fiction blockbuster telling the turbulent history of 20th century China through the stories of herself, her mother and her grandmother, is finally set to become a movie, 14 years after it was first published.

The film rights have been acquired by London-based producer Eric Abraham of Portobello Pictures. Christopher Hampton (“Atonement”) will pen the adaptation.

Although the book was written in English, Abraham plans to make the movie in Chinese. Hampton will work with a Mandarin dialogue writer, and the director will likely be Chinese.

Abraham has previously produced movies in Czech (the Oscar-winning “Kolya”) and Russian (“The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin”), despite speaking neither language.

Jung Chang, who lives in London and is a friend of Abraham, has previously resisted all approaches from filmmakers, because of fears that a movie version would compromise the authenticity of her stories.

“She would never have wanted a Hollywood studio buying it and doing what they liked with it,” commented her film agent Lesley Thorne.

“The fact that Eric and Christopher want to make such a faithful adaptation is very important to Jung, because all the people involved are real. It’s very important to protect people who are still living in communist China.”

“It’s such a deeply personal story that I can understand her reticence,” Abraham said.

“Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China” is still banned in mainland China for its shocking and moving account of the lives of three women before, during and after Mao’s revolution.

It has sold 10 million copies worldwide, and been translated into 30 languages. It won the British Book of the Year award in 1994.

With the book banned in China, the chances of the film being shot there seem remote. But Abraham, a native South African, sees room for hope: “Apartheid, communism, it was unthinkable that they could suddenly fall apart, but it happened. With the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, there are some signs of a change. I can see a time when ‘Wild Swans’ could well be available in China,” he said.

“It a magnum opus, and we’re just at the beginning of a long journey. I imagine a film of this scale will take anywhere between two and five years to make, but were we able to have it ready in time for release in the summer of 2008, that would be wonderful,” he added.

The book starts with Chang’s grandmother in the early years of the 20th century, when Chinese girls still had their feet bound (a gruesome process graphically described in one of the book’s most memorable passages). She grew up under the Manchu empire and married a warlord.

Chang’s mother lived under Japanese occupation during the Sino-Japanese war. She and her husband became high-ranking communist party officials, but were persecuted and imprisoned for opposing Mao’s policies.

Chang herself briefly became a teenage member of the fanatical Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, but became quickly disillusioned by the violence of her comrades. After Mao’s death, she studied English and became an academic, leaving China in 1978 to study in Britain, where she has lived ever since.

The publication of “Wild Swans” made her a literary celebrity. Last year she and her historian husband Jon Halliday published a controversial and highly critical biography of Mao.

More Film


    Film Review: 'Nureyev'

    It would be absurd to say that Rudolf Nureyev lived, or danced, in anyone’s shadow. He was a man who leapt and twirled and flew onstage, all muscle but light as a feather, with a freedom and force that reconfigured the human spirit. There’s no denying, though, that over the last few decades, and especially [...]

  • Die Kinder Der Toten review

    Film Review: 'Die Kinder Der Toten'

    The hills are alive (or rather, undead), with the sound of music (also mastication and the moaning of zombies) in Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska’s experimental, dialogue-free, home-movie-style riff on Elfriede Jelinek’s “Die Kinder Der Toten” (The Children of the Dead). A seminal text in Jelinek’s native Austria, the 1995 book has never been translated [...]

  • Idol review

    Film Review: 'Idol'

    How many twists can a plot undergo before it snaps? This, more than any of the many political, moral and personal conundrums that snake through “Idol,” seems to be the question writer-director Lee Su-jin is most interested in posing with his extravagantly incomprehensible sophomore feature. A seedy political thriller by way of grisly revenge movie [...]

  • The Last to See Them review

    Film Review: 'The Last to See Them'

    Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” stretches long as a late-evening shadow over Italian director Sara Summa’s feature debut “The Last to See Them.” The Italian title, “Gli Ultimi Viderli Vivere” which translates literally to “The Last to See Them Alive,” is also the heading of the opening chapter of Capote’s book. The setting is, similarly, [...]

  • Kalank

    Film Review: ‘Kalank’

    Events leading to the 1947 Partition of India serve as the forebodingly serious backdrop for the exhaustingly overextended razzmatazz of “Kalank,” writer-director Abhishek Varman’s lavish but ponderous Bollywood extravaganza, which opened in the U.S. on more than 300 screens the same day as its Indian release. Despite the preponderance of sets and costumes spectacular enough [...]

  • WGA Agency Packaging Fight Placeholder Writer

    WGA: 92 Percent of Writers Who Signed Statement of Support Have Fired Agents

    The Writers Guild of America estimated that over 92 percent of their members who support a new code of conduct for talent agencies have fired those representatives. Letters announcing formal termination will be delivered on Monday, the guild said in a late-hitting memo on Thursday, as most agencies will be closed tomorrow in observance of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content