'Contagion' spreads to Hong Kong

12:45 AM PST 09/02/2010 by Jonathan Landreth, AP

EXCLUSIVE: Soderbergh film to feature Josie Ho

BEIJING –- Steven Soderbergh is bringing his fear-of-disease thriller “Contagion” to shoot in Hong Kong in a move that is likely to stir up painful memories of the deadly SARS epidemic in 2003 that spread around the world from China, shaking its one-party government.

Josie Ho, the singer-actress who last appeared in the slasher film “Dream Home," told The Hollywood Reporter that Soderbergh has hired her to join the Hollywood ensemble cast in her native Hong Kong at the end of Sept.

In Soderbergh’s first visit to Greater China as a director, Ho, a daughter of Macau’s wealthiest gaming tycoon, is set to play the sister of “Patient Zero,” a casino worker who spreads a deadly virus to passengers on an airplane leaving for the United States.

Ho, who met Soderbergh in Hong Kong in July, said she would draw on her own memories of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak to play her role in “Contagion.”

“It was a very sad time when we were all scared and nobody knew where to turn for help,” Ho said. “I really respect all the doctors and nurses who saved us. They are heroes.”

Ho said she is “really excited and looking forward” to working in a cast that already includes Marion Cotillard as a World Health Organization doctor, in addition to Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law and Kate Winslet. Ho did not know which Asian actor would play Patient Zero.

Sources said October Pictures of Hong Kong will line produce for Soderbergh in the former British colony. An official at the company reached by phone referred queries to producer Gregory Jacobs in Los Angeles.

Jacobs and the film’s publicist did not respond to repeated phone and email requests for comment. Crew reached by phone at the Los Angeles and Chicago production offices confirmed the film’s imminent move to Hong Kong but declined to elaborate.
 
Detailed script notes published on a film blog suggest “Contagion” also would shoot in Minneapolis, Dubai, Japan, Switzerland, The United Kingdom, Brazil, Russia, and Malaysia.

Sources at distributor Warner Bros., which plans to release “Contagion” in Oct. 2011, discounted word that Soderbergh might also shoot in China, saying he would stay in Hong Kong, where film production is less constrained than in China.

“Contagion” is likely to be barred from China’s booming movie marketplace -- up 86% at the boxoffice from Jan.-June -- if Soderbergh’s final cut bares any resemblance to the series of events around the explosion of SARS.

The near pandemic episode moved China’s president Hu Jintao to sack the mayor of Beijing and the minister of health for covering up the true extent of the virus’s spread.

According to the World Health Organization, within a matter of weeks in early 2003, SARS spread from Guangdong Province just north of Hong Kong to rapidly infect more than 8,000 individuals in 37 countries, eventually killing 774 victims.
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