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Emmy-nominated director Justin Chadwick is set to co-direct the fantasy/drama/biopic Untamed, a U.K.-China co-production about the remarkable, improbable life of Zhu Shenghao, who famously translated the complete works of Shakespeare into Chinese singlehandedly.
The innovative project, which will be told in both English and Chinese and shot between London and Shanghai, will actually feature two filmmakers at the helm. Chadwick will handle the English components, while a Chinese director, to be announced at a later date, will handle the Chinese shooting. The filmmakers will then come together to collaborate on the final edit.
The film will begin production in the U.K. in October and is aiming to begin shooting in China later in the year. Untamed will be the first U.K.-China co-production since well before the pandemic — an encouraging sign of cross-industry collaboration amid challenging times.
A story of underdogs dreaming of the seemingly impossible, the film features three thematically linked narratives loosely bound by Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. In 1590s London, the film introduces Shakespeare himself, struggling against the odds to get his early play, Taming of the Shrew, to stage. In 1930s Shanghai, Zhu Shenghao is a dictionary translator and promising poet when Japan’s imperial army invades; although impoverished and surrounded by havoc, he sets out to prove the cultural sophistication of the Chinese people by taking on the staggering task of translating all of Shakespeare’s plays into Chinese on his own. And in contemporary Shanghai, a young woman named Fan dreams of drawing popular attention away from smartphones and back to the richer experience of the beautifully bound classic book. “This is a film about living life on your own terms, not those imposed by those around you,” Untamed‘s producers said in a statement.
Chinese actor Zhang Chao, recently seen in the high-profile Chinese political feature 1921 (2021), about the founding of the Communist Party of China, has signed on to star as Zhu Shenghao. Chao recently has appeared in a sequence of hit Chinese TV and streaming series, including Hikaru No Go (2020), Dear Missy( 2020) and Somewhere Only We Know (2019). His breakout performance came in 2016 in period drama Mr. No Problem, for which he won best supporting actor at the Shanghai International Film Festival.
Untamed is produced by Zhu Li, whose 2021 project Wuhai recently won the FIPRESCI Prize at the San Sebastian International Film Festival. Li also produced Russian director Sergei Dvortsevoy’s 2018 Cannes competition entry Akya, which won best actress that year.
Untamed is presented by Chinese financier LQ Entertainment and co-produced by Beijing-based Juben Pictures and Glasgow’s Sinner Films. Juben also is in development on a sequel to Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Chinese period drama Wolf Totem, with a new script written by John Fusco (The Highwaymen, The Forbidden Kingdom). Sinner Films co-produced the The Most Assassinated Woman in the World for Netflix and is co-producing An Unsuitable Game, to be directed by BAFTA-nominated director Elaine Constantine.
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter‘s Sept. 3 daily issue at the Venice International Film Festival.
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London Film Festival