Ace Hong Kong director Dante Lam has begun work on “The Rescue,” which is set to be the biggest-budget Chinese film made this year. The $90 million action-adventure picture has already claimed a coveted Chinese New Year release slot in 2020.
Lam was recently responsible for two of mainland China’s highest-grossing films: “Operation Mekong” and last year’s “Operation Red Sea,” which raked in a combined $750 million in their target home market. Both were drenched in blood and Chinese patriotism, which failed to connect with audiences overseas.
For the long-gestating “Rescue,” Lam – whose track record includes upscale Hong Kong thrillers “The Viral Factor” and “The Stool Pigeon,” as well as sports dramas “Unbeatable” and “To the Fore” – has changed direction again. “There are no guns or martial-arts things,” he told Variety. “‘The Rescue’ is focused on courage, which I show through action. This has the energy of song and dance, or of sports films like ‘To the Fore.’”
The film focuses on five characters who form the kernel of a rescue unit within the Chinese Coast Guard. The challenges force them into joint problem-solving, and reveal their different personalities.
The cast is headed by China’s most in-demand male lead, Eddie Peng (“Operation Mekong,” “Cold War” and “Duckweed”), and Xin Zhilei (“Crosscurrent”) as a female helicopter pilot. Other key cast members include Wang Yanlin (“Operation Red Sea”), Lan Yingying, Xu Yang, Li Mincheng and Wang Yutian.
The working budget of $90 million is about two and a half time that of “Operation Red Sea.” After taking in locations in China, including the coastal city of Xiamen, the production relocates to Baja Studios in Mexico, where “Titanic” was previously filmed. There, Lam will shoot large-scale aquatic and underwater scenes.
The film is backed and presented by China Modern Film and Television Development, a private company with minority state ownership, and by China Communication Press. Production is by Candy Leung through Film Fireworks, the company she owns with Lam.
Leung has assembled a high-profile crew to give the picture the international appeal and elements that Lam is seeking. The production design is headed by Hollywood-based Martin Laing, a Brit whose stellar credits include “Titanic,” “Pearl Harbor” and “Clash of the Titans.”
“We have got four or five epic action stories worthy of ‘xXx,’ ‘Sully’ or ‘Deepwater Horizon,’” said Laing. “But Dante is also very grounded. Between the action, he has made sure there is enough time for the characters to fall in love.”
Cinematography is handled by Peter Pau, whose “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” and “Forbidden Kingdom” remain two of the most internationally successful Chinese films of all time.