Cannes: Huayi Brothers' Chinese War Epic 'The Eight Hundred' Sells Wide

The Eight Hundred Still 1 - H 2019
Huayi Brothers Media

The big-budget epic features action scenes designed by Hollywood veteran Glen Boswell and is hoping to do for the war epic in China what local blockbuster 'The Wandering Earth' did for sci-fi. 

China's hotly anticipated World War II epic The Eight Hundred has sold to multiple territories around the world, including North America.

Directed by Guan Hu and produced by veteran Chinese studio Huayi Brothers Media, The Eight Hundred is being pitched to buyers at the Cannes Film Market as China's first big-budget, grippingly realistic war epic.

The producers are hoping the film will do for the war movie in China what local blockbuster The Wandering Earth ($780 million) did for the sci-fi genre earlier this year — set a new standard for production quality while making a bundle at the box office.

Huayi Brothers launched sales on the film at Berlin's European Film Market in February. So far, it has sold theatrical rights to the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand (CMC Pictures, which also distributed The Wandering Earth in the U.S.); South Korea (First Run), Germany (Koch), the U.K. (Trinity), Singapore and Brunei (Shaw); Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos (GSC); and worldwide in-flight (Emphasis).

The film is set to open in China on July 5, in the thick of summer blockbuster season. Most of the international territories sold so far are lined up for day-and-date theatrical releases with China, or not far behind. Huayi Brothers is expecting to close out remaining territories during the Cannes film market.

The Eight Hundred is said to have a production budget in excess of $80 million — which sits at the very upper end in China, where the industry remains nonunionized and production costs run much lower than in Hollywood.

The film is already generating buzz in Beijing among local producers and executives who have viewed early cuts. The most common comparison has been that the film is like "China's answer to Dunkirk."

The Eight Hundred was already underway before the release of Christopher Nolan's impressionistic WWII film, but the Huayi Brothers project does bear some similarities to Dunkirk — both in its realistic approach to action and that its story focuses on a heroic sacrifice and retreat rather than a decisive victory.

The film is based on a pivotal battle in 1937 during the Sino-Japanese war: the historic siege and defense of the Si Hang Warehouse in Shanghai. This brutal, merciless encounter marked the last stand of the Chinese forces in the Battle of Shanghai and ended with the Japanese occupation of China's most cosmopolitan city. About 400 fighters, an unlikely mix of soldiers, deserters and civilians who, as the story turned to legend, became known as the “Eight Hundred Heroes," held out against waves of Japanese forces for four days and four nights in order to cover for China's principal forces, which retreated west to protect the country's heartland during the next phase of aggression.

The film features an ensemble cast of — in order of appearance — Ou Hao, Wang Qianyuan, Jiang Wu, Zhang Yi, Du Chun, Wei Chen, Tang Yixin, Li Chen, Liang Jing, Ethan Ruan, Liu Xiaoqing, Yao Chen, Zheng Kai, and Huang Xiaoming.

On the production side, Eight Hundred continues the recent trend of big-budget Chinese films hiring Hollywood veterans to collaborate alongside local technical staff. The key production team includes: Chinese cinematographer Cao Yu (Nanking Nanking), production designer Lin Mu (Design of Death), sound designer Fu Kang (Summer Palace), American action director Glenn Boswell (Lord of the Rings, The Matrix), Australian Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor Tim Crosbie (X-Men: Days of Future Past), and original music by Rupert Gregson-Williams and Andrew Kawczynski, both past Hans Zimmer collaborators. Italian singer Andrea Bocelli is recording the film's theme song.

Director Guan's most recent release was the gritty crime drama Mr. Six (2005), which became a sleeper hit for Huayi Brothers, earning $137 million in China. The film closed the 72nd Venice International Film Festival in an out-of-competition screening.