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Mike Medavoy, Shanghai Film Group to Co-Produce WWII Film, Miniseries

Mike Medavoy
Marc Royce

Writer Nicholas Meyer will base the film on Chinese novelist Bei La’s 'The Cursed Piano.'

SHANGHAI – Oscar-winning Hollywood producer Mike Medavoy and Shanghai Film Group president Ren Zhonglun will co-produce an English-language feature film set in World War II Shanghai and a related six-hour television miniseries focused on the Jews who fled oppression in Europe for China only to see their Eastern refuge overrun by Japanese.

Speaking on Monday at the 14th Shanghai International Film Festival, Black Swan producer Medavoy said screenwriter Nicholas Meyer, with whom he worked previously on the film Time and Again, would write the film, which has yet to be titled.

Meyer will base the film loosely on Chinese novelist Bei La’s The Cursed Piano, a love story set in Japanese occupied China at a time when the city where Medavoy was born in 1941 to Russian-Jewish emigres had built up a vibrant cosmopolitan culture only to have to have it wrecked by war.

Medavoy, whose family fled Shanghai in 1947 for Chile then the United States, said that he felt a “great deal of responsibility to get this story told.”

“I have a certain amount of fear about producing something that will live up to everybody’s expectations,” Medavoy told a roomful of reporters at the festival to which he’s acted as an advisor. “But sometimes fear produces the best work.”

The film and TV series will come on the heels of three recent films about Japan’s pillaging of Nanjing, near Shanghai, in 1937, including Lu Chuan’s City of Life and Death, just released to mixed reviews in the U.S., and a highly anticipated December-release film by China’s most famous director, Zhang Yimou, starring Christian Bale.

Ren said of his new partner Medavoy: “We’re very happy for the first time to making a movie about the Shanghai people under the Japanese occupation and to tell the story of how China helped the Jewish people and the Jewish culture by telling our common story on film and in television.”

SFG’s Hollywood experience includes building the first commercial Imax theater in China in 2004, work on the 2005 Merchant-Ivory film The White Countess, its investment in Wong Kar Wai’s English-language debut My Blueberry Nights in 2007, and its 2008 work with Universal on the blockbuster The Mummy III: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

Writer Meyer will base the miniseries on L.A.-based actress-turned writer Daniella Kuhn’s treatment called Tears of the Sparrow, which she began researching in 2005 and writing in earnest in 2007. Kuhn, who will work on a few of the episodes, is a daughter of executive producer Robert Lawrence Kuhn, author of the book How China’s Leaders Think.

The TV miniseries will be made to overlap with the film, in which one lead character is Jewish, but will focus more closely on the Jewish experience in Shanghai.

The budget for the projects was not disclosed. Edward McGurn, vp of production at Medavoy’s LA-based Phoenix Pictures, said the miniseries would be pre-sold to interested territories.

Last year, Medavoy formed a Phoenix joint venture with Beijing-based partner Jonathan Shen, a longtime Chinese television producer whose company Shineworks helped bring the Oscars to China Central Television.

Shen told The Hollywood Reporter that a Shineworks Phoenix joint venture now is registered in the British Virgin Islands and he and Medavoy plan to use a $1-$2 million development fund they raised to develop five feature film projects.

Medavoy’s projects with the SFG will not be a part of his work with Shen, but Shen said he felt it was an opportunity that Medavoy could not refuse. “Shanghai came to L.A. and will pay for everything. This will be good for Mike’s co-production credibility,” Shen said.

Medavoy’s film and TV projects with SFG will be advised by Zhao Qizheng, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, considered by some to be the rubber stamp parliament of China’s one-party government. The projects will count Adam Zhu, a longtime family friend of the Kuhn’s, as special advisor.