“Ray” helmer Taylor Hackford will direct “Merchant of Shanghai,” an English-language biopic about opium dealer and property magnate Silas Hardoon, who transformed Shanghai in the 19th century.

Hackford aims to lense in fall ’09 in Shanghai and surrounding areas.

Hardoon was a Baghdad Jew who immigrated to Shanghai, became a kingpin in the opium trade, and helped transform Shanghai from an obscure backwater to a major international city.

Hackford will collaborate with actress-writer Luo Yan of China’s Silver Dream Prods. to produce the pic. Melvin Mar, producer of “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” will executive produce.

Scribe Timothy J. Sexton (“Children of Men”) will rewrite.

The project has attracted the interest of Shanghai Film Group and China Film Group. The aim is to have as much Chinese input in the production as possible, to effectively make it a Chinese production, Hackford said.

“We will collaborate with a great amount of Chinese. It’s a Chinese film out of Shanghai with Luo Yan’s company,” said Hackford, who has been a keen scholar of Chinese history since his days studying international relations.

“This story is about a historic moment when Europe and China were dancing together, with Europe trying to impose its will. I thought it was a very interesting story on an epic scale,” he said.

Yan said the deal with Hackford was an effort for his company to make “mainstream movies” that are produced in China.

“We approached Taylor Hackford with a normal Hollywood script, with the story taking place in China,” said Yan, whose credits as a thesp include “Pavilion of Women” for Universal.

CAA China agent Peter Loehr and “Jade Warrior” associate producer Jonah Greenberg were involved in setting up the project, said Yan.