Top Asian filmmaker Peter Chan Ho-sun will produce and direct “Li Na: My Life,” a biopic of the tennis player who is the only Chinese to have ever won a Grand Slam.
“Li Na is such an icon. Everything she stands for is so atypical of conventional Chinese behavior, and so typical of the generation of people born in the 1980s,” Chan told Variety. “This is the generation that today is calling the shots.”
Chan’s We Pictures is leading the production and his We Distribution is handling pre-sales outside China. The film will be the second likely to be partially backed by Alibaba Pictures, the filmmaking arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.
Alibaba’s Yulebao crowd funding platform would likely be involved as a partner, but Chan says he would limit it to no more than 10% of the production budget. We Pictures is expected to bring on other investors and distributors in China, with sports brand sponsors also likely to board as marketing partners.
Chan and Li are represented by WME | IMG, which negotiated the deal and brought the two parties together following the acquisition of IMG by WME last spring.
Budget is in the $15 million – $20 million range, dependent on cast. Chan is auditioning both actresses and sportswomen for the lead role and expects to announce a decision by July in order to begin several months of training ahead of a late 2015 production start. The film will be shot in Chinese and English, with key roles for her coaches. Delivery is set for 2016.
Li retired from the professional game at the end of 2014, having won the 2011 French Open, and 2014 Australian Open. She subsequently published the autobiography from which the screenplay has been adapted.
“After my two latest films that examine contemporary Chinese society, but with an older age group, I had to make this one,” Chan said. He enjoyed huge commercial success with “American Dreams in China,” a nostalgic look back at the early days of China’s economic boom, and followed that with critical success for last year’s “Dearest,” which tackled the socially sensitive topic of child kidnapping.
“Everything about Li is fascinating, from the way that she shows her emotions, her temper, the way she called the shots with the press and her husband. But Li also endured a lot of difficult stages in her life, notably bad debt and having to learn to manage her own team. This is really a story of achieving independence on her own terms and I related to it very personally,” said Chan, who admits he had not previously been a tennis fan.