UDINE, Italy – “Mission: Impossible” producer Paula Wagner is set to produce a Chinese-U.S. movie about the Flying Tigers aerial combat force that performed heroically in China and South East Asia during WWII.
Wagner was in Beijing last week with Oscar-nominated screenwriter Naomi Foner (“Running on Empty”) to work on the project that currently has the working title “Moon Flower of Flying Tigers.” The project, which Wagner describes as a “romantic drama with a lot of action,” originated with Desen Media International, a Chinese production finance and distribution group with credits that include “Tiny Times,” “14 Blades” and “Ip Man 2.”
The project is being adapted by Foner from a novel of the same title that gives a fictionalized spin to true events set against the backdrop of fighting in China’s Kunming Province. It tells the story of a U.S. pilot who falls in love with a Chinese nurse.
Desen boss An Ann approached Wagner about the co-production, and development has been under way for several months now. After their latest trip to Beijing, Wagner and Foner scouted locations elsewhere in China.
“This will be a true co-production as the creative content is both Chinese and American,” Wagner told Variety. “It will be written in English with Chinese elements and will feature American and Chinese actors.”
Wagner and An aim to shoot in late 2014 or early 2015 and are now evaluating possible directors.
“Financing of the film will most likely take a more independent route, though we will be actively seeking American distribution at the right time,” said Wagner.
“The budget will only be settled after a thorough analysis of the script,” Wagner said, though she also described it as “substantial” and said that that Desen will invest a significant proportion. The story has room for two American and two Chinese starring roles. Substantial visual effects will be required for the aerial scenes and to re-create the period look.
“We are also giving a lot of thought to 3D and are currently looking at the technology,” said Wagner.
“We shot ‘Mission: Impossible 3’ in Shanghai, and afterwards I became very interested in the possibility of making a film with China. So when this opportunity arose I took it,” said Wagner, who also produced “The Last Samurai” in Asia.
“This is a perfect way to work with a Chinese company. We needed something that allows both cultures to be genuinely portrayed. This is a great story. It feels like we a building a new model here,” said Wagner. “Desen is a very impressive company, and so are An Ann and her team.”
“This was a real case of Chinese and Americans working together very closely to protect China, Burma and India. Once Pearl Harbor happened in 1941, the Flying Tigers evolved a lot,” said Wagner. The Flying Tigers were ace pilots of the American Volunteer Group who were successful in repelling or slowing the Japanese advances in Asia.
The AVF was previously portrayed in the 1942 film “Flying Tigers” starring John Wayne.
At least two other production teams have announced Flying Tigers projects. One was unveiled in November last year by George Lascu and Rex Media as a $70 million feature film and TV miniseries, scripted by Bill MacDonald (HBO’s “Rome”) and set to be directed by a quartet of helmers including Ron Shelton and Walt Becker. Meanwhile John Woo (“Mission: Impossible 2”) and Lion Rock producing partner Terence Chang have set their sights on a two-part movie and a six-hour miniseries, backed by Exclusive Media, China Film Group and Cyrte Investments.