Bona Bumps Up 'Magician' to Christmas to Battle '13 Flowers'

The Great Magician - Movie Still: Zhou Xun and Tony Leung - 2011

Tony Leung and Christian Bale will go head to head Dec. 22.

BEIJING – Nasdaq-listed Chinese film studio the Bona Film Group on Wednesday said it would move forward to a Dec. 22 release Hong Kong director Derek Yee’s $15 million 1920s narrative feature The Great Magician, starring Tony Leung Chiu-wai

The date change will pit Leung, one of the most award-winning Hong Kong actors of all time, against Hollywood star Christian Bale on Chinese screens during the peak Christmas film season.

“Positive confrontation will be inevitable” Bona said in a statement, noting that audiences may like to compare Leung’s portrayal of a magician with Bale’s from his 2006 role in The Prestige.

Bale, who won the Best Supporting Oscar in March for his role in The Fighter, will star next in the Dec. 16 release of Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s historical drama 13 Flowers of Nanjing.

Leung, who was named Best Actor at the Golden Horse Awards and the Asian Film Awards in 2007 for his role in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, will play the powerful prestidigitator Zhang Xian, whose ex-lover (played by Chinese actress Zhou Xun, star of The Message and Painted Skin), gets mixed up with an evil warlord played by Hong Kong actor Sean Lau Ching-wan.

“It’s a love triangle,” a Bona official told The Hollywood Reporter

Bona, whose financial stability has wavered since it listed its shares in New York in December, earlier had planned to release The Great Magician during the Lunar New Year period in early 2012.

Emperor Motion Pictures of Hong Kong is a co-investor in the project now shooting outside Beijing at the China Film Group’s Huairou film base with Japanese cinematographer Nobuyasu Kita, who worked with Yee on his acclaimed drama The Shinjuku Incident.

Shooting is expected to finish by the end of June, a Bona official told THR, after which, EMP will take on overseas distribution duties on the film that also will star Chinese actress Yan Ni, star of Zhang Yimou’s A Simple Noodle Story.

With co-writers Chun Tin-nam and Lau Ho-leung, Yee adapted the screenplay for The Great Magician from the Chinese best-selling novel of the same name by author Zhang Haifan -- but Yee plans to make a lot of changes.

"This movie is not just the legendary story of magic, but also a fusion of fantasy, love and action and other elements,” Yee said in the statement from Beijing-based Bona. “I want to make a movie that will excite and refresh the audience."

The project is Yee’s first work in 24 years with Leung. The two last worked together in 1987 on People’s Hero, for which Leung was named Best Supporting Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards.

The Great Magician also represents a reunion between Leung and co-star Lau, who haven’t worked together in 13 years, since they both played in The Longest Nite by director Johnnie To.

Bona, China’s largest non-state film distributor, posted a loss in net revenues in the quarter ended December 31, and despite higher full-year revenues, a loss for that period too, blaming the financial stumble on the disappointing performance of a few key films.