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Dick Cook, Carnival to Make Kim Ki-duk Chinese Fantasy Film (EXCLUSIVE)

Dick Cook Studios and its Chinese partner Film Carnival are to make “Who Is God?,” an anti-war film that will mark the Chinese movie making debut of South Korean maverick Kim Ki-duk (“The Isle,” “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter.. and Spring,” “Pieta”.)

The film is set to have a budget of some $37 million (RMB250 million), which by some estimates is three times the total Kim has spent on production in his entire 20-film indie career.

The principal financier of the picture is Huafeng Investment Consultation, a securities firm based in Hangzhou. The city is home to both Carnival and e-commerce giant Alibaba.

Kim describes the film as “the story of a conflict of faith – the wars between the tribes that worship nature and the kingdom that advocates religion… with plot lines (that) are richly interwoven with philosophy and Buddhist allegory.”

Film Carnival will be responsible for the production, with DCS involved in pre-production, post production and support of the finished movie’s international distribution.

Headed by former Disney chairman Dick Cook, DCS last year received backing from Chinese state-owned giant CITIC Guoan to launch a production studio. That investment was confirmed earlier this year. In April too DCS partnered with Film Carnival to launch a film investment pool.

“We’re very glad to be working together with DCS, and to integrate Hollywood expertise into Chinese movie making,” a Film Carnival spokesman told Variety.

Film Carnival says that the screenplay for “Who Is God?” has already passed Chinese censorship and that the company has every expectation that the finished movie can be released in China.

Production is expected to get underway in “Fall 2016.” Top Chinese female star Liu Yifei (“The Forbidden Kingdom,” “Ip Man 3”) has also been named in connection with the project, though a contract is not finalized. Prodiucers are also in advanced talks with a star-studded technical team including Yuen Wo-ping (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) as action director, and triple Oscar-winner Jim Rygiel (“Lord of the Rings”) as special effects supervisor.

Production is by Stanley Wing Siu, a veteran of the Hong Kong industry with credits including “Miss Hong Kong” and “Avenging Angels.”

“I have spent ten years preparing ‘Who is God?’ Today there are still many religious wars across the world, I very much hope to shoot them down,” Kim says in a pitch document seen by Variety.

Kim was at the forefront of the modern Korean film industry’s astonishing festival and export success at the beginning of the millennium. With films including “The Isle,” and “3-Iron” he also earned a reputation as a visual stylist who would mix beauty with amounts of cruelty that pushed audiences to their limits. Two of his films were selected as Korea’s foreign-language Oscar contender.

Kim’s international success won him few friends in the Korean movie industry. With a background in European fine arts and a self-taught indie approach to film-making, Kim has been able to make a succession of polished movies on shoestring budgets that avoid him being in hock to major financiers or conglomerates. Instead he works with a team of students and dedicated screenwriters, some of who have gone on to have their own directing careers.

“Who Is God” represents a new direction for Kim. And in Busan last year he told media that he had told all the stories he wanted to tell in Korea.

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