China-Korea-Japan Ready 'Yang Gui Fei' for November Shoot

Fan Bingbing will star as the legendary beauty Yang Gui Fei in a China-Japan-Korea co-production.

Film is the latest attempt to find box office success with a multinational co-pro.

BUSAN, South Korea -- A portrayal of one of China's most historic beauties will be the subject of the latest co-production involving a Chinese production company, continuing a trend to gain access to the world's third-largest movie market.

Slated as a China-Japan-Korea co-production, the film has a stated $20 million budget, but representatives declined to say how that would split among participants from the three nations. 

Yang Gui Fei tells the story of a Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) imperial consort who was the favorite of the Emperor Xuanzong. Despite her legendary beauty and relationship with the emperor, she was ultimately killed by the emperor's guards after her family was blamed for a rebellion against the monarch. 

While the story may be familiar to Asian audiences, Yang Gui Fei may fail to resonate with global filmgoers more accustomed to Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, although they do address similar themes, themes that attracted director Kwak Jae-yong (My Sassy Girl) to the project.

The film features Fan Bingbing, China's leading domestic female star, as the eponymous beauty. At a press conference on Friday, Fan was joined by American-born actor and singer Wang Leehom, who will play poet Li Bai, and Korea's Kwak Jae-yong to direct. Kwak said in a separate statement that China Film Group chairman Han Sanping had chosen him to direct. Chow Yun-fat has been discussed as possible for the emperor, but representatives from the film declined to name any other cast members.

“The Tang Dynasty is Chinese history but you can that this is a part of world history. As such, a Korean director can help to bring it to a larger audience,” Kwak said. At the same time, he emphasized his connection to China. “My surname is a Chinese name, which means that my ancestors may be Chinese.” 

Kwak also pointed to external examples of crossovers. “American directors have filmed Roman history successfully, and that made no difference to the material,” he said.

“There will be more and more Korea-China co-productions, and more people to people cooperation,” said Lee Yong-kwan, BIFF director, who attended the event and presented Fan with a hanbok, the traditional Korean women’s dress.

Set to begin shooting next month in Korea, Yang Gui Fei will wrap in February, in time for a later 2012 release. No distribution had yet been confirmed, but China Film Group’s participation almost guarantees that it will handle the film domestically.

Most prominent among the producers is China Film Co. Ltd., the production arm of film giant China Film Group. China’s ESA Cultural Investment (Beijing) Co. Ltd. and Japan’s Tristone Entertainment Inc. are also listed as producers.

The advantages of co-productions involving China are simple: qualified co-productions not only offer greater international financing opportunities, but also can be listed as domestic productions when considered for China distribution, avoiding the annual 20-film, revenue-sharing quota the country imposes.

Successful examples to date of Korea-China or multiple Asian co-productions include John Woo’s Red Cliff, which included participation from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, and Sophie’s Revenge, the China’s highest-grossing film by a female director, which starred Zhang Ziyi and was co-produced by Korea’s CJ Entertainment, with Zhang acting as a producer.

Challenges can include linguistic barriers, casting choices and forced plots, where attempts to expand a film’s market appeal can backfire with too much fusion. Late Autumn, which paired Lust, Caution star Tang Wei with Korea’s Hyun Bin, failed to find chemistry between its stars or its audience.

This production of Yang Gui Fei has no relationship to a consort biopic announced in March by Xi'an Qujiang Film and TV Investment Group, which had Antoine Fuqua attached.