Barry Levinson has come on board to direct an untitled love story, set in Shanghai and Leningrad, with Shanghai Film Group financing and Mike Medavoy, Rafaella De Laurentiis and Edward McGurn producing.
Production will start in February in Shanghai with Shanghai Film Group fully financing the project, with a budget in the $40 million to $45 million range.
Story is connected to personally to Medavoy, who was born in Shanghai in 1941 while the city was occupied by the Japanese. He worked with Levinson on 1991’s “Bugsy.”
“I am thrilled to be working on another project with Barry,” he said. “This film is connected to my roots, and I can’t think of anyone I would trust more with it.”
Ronald Harwood (“The Pianist”) is writing the screenplay, loosely based on Chinese author Bei La’s novel “The Cursed Piano,” but that title will not be used. The story is set against the escape from Leningrad by Jews and the Japanese occupation of Shanghai and centers on a prodigy’s love for two women amid the chaos and drama of a world at war.
Hannah Shakespeare wrote the original screenplay.
Levinson noted that Shanghai had provided a refuge for almost 20,000 Jews who had fled from German-occupied Europe in the late 1930s. “The visual and psychological landscape of this story gives a certain scope and nuance to exploring the two cultures,” he added.
Levinson is in pre-production to direct crime thriller “Black Mass” with Johnny Depp starring for Cross Creek and Exclusive Media.
Medavoy and Shanghai Film Group first began working on the love story project two years ago, announcing in Shanghai that they were co-producing a feature film and six-hour TV miniseries with Nicholas Meyer adapting. Medavoy said Tuesday that he had approached De Laurentiis to produce the film because of her experience working in China on “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” and “The Forbidden Kingdom.”
Shanghai Film Group’s titles include “Still Life” and “Lust, Caution,” both which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2006 and 2007 respectively.
“International collaboration, telling Chinese stories to the world, is SFG’s pursuit,” said president Ren Zhouglun. “We’re honored to have Levinson, Harwood and Medavoy on board.”
Medavoy has been a Hollywood mainstay since the 1960s with recent successes from “Black Swan” and “Shutter Island.” He also produced the thriller “Shanghai,” set in 1941 in the city and starring John Cusack but that film has yet to receive a theatrical release in the United States from the Weinstein Co., three years after being released in China.
Medavoy and McGurn are also producing “The 33,” based on the true story of the 33 Chilean miners who were rescued after being trapped for 69 days in 2010. The project is being sold at Cannes, where Good Universe is handling international sales with Antonio Banderas, Martin Sheen and Rodrigo Santoro starring and shooting starting in the fall.