China opens to 'Forbidden'

Chan, Li pic eyes Middle Kingdom bow

"The Forbidden Kingdom," Jackie Chan and Jet Li's first tandem onscreen appearance is gunning for a world's first by opening in China, producer Casey Silver and distributor Huayi Brothers say.

If a Chinese premiere is ap-proved by the authorities, the much-anticipated $55 million action adventure, about a troubled Boston youth (Michael Angarano) transported magically into one of China's most famous ancient legends, would be the first major Hollywood-China co-production to premiere in the middle kingdom.

"We're awaiting a date and checking everybody's schedules. We really hope it can happen," Silver told The Hollywood Reporter. A Huayi spokeswoman in Beijing confirmed that the application to the State Administration of Radio Film and Television was awaiting approval and that the world premiere date was imminent.

Lionsgate will release the film on 3,000 screens in North America on April 18.

Silver said that Angarano, 20, holds his own against Chan and Li, "which is a real complement. He's a working actor who read for the part, read for it again. Their screen time is balanced."

Silver said that government censors made requests for minimal changes, which the writer and director were able to accommodate seamlessly. He would not reveal the roles played by Chan or Li, who Silver helped bring together in a tight window to shoot the film in 100 days in China between April and August last.

Shot on location and at the Hengdian Studios outside Shanghai, "Kingdom" was written by John Fusco and directed by Rob Minkoff. Sound by Beijing-based editor Tao Jin ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Hero") has just been completed at Soundfirm in Melbourne and Sydney, producer Rafaella de Laurentiis said.

"I took some interesting risks on this film. I wanted to capture the special sounds of an Asian action film, which Tao's talent brings to the film, but also I wanted to have the film be as big sounding as a Hollywood picture," de Laurentiis said, speaking from New Zealand. She contracted three South Korean firms to work on the special effects.

De Laurentiis, who shot the first English-language film in modern China, "TaiPan," based on the James Clavell novel ("It was a bad movie, but I fell in love with China"), went on to make "The Bruce Lee Story."

When her friend and former Universal co-worker Silver called her in mid-December 2006 and presented what was for a long time code-named "The J&J" project, de Laurentiis read the script in hopes of getting in on bringing together the world's two biggest martial arts stars.

"We had to start by the end of April, so it was the prep that was difficult. We didn't even have an idea where we wanted to shoot," she said. Luckily, director Minkoff had scouted Hengdian and other places around China, so De Laurentiis made Hengdian her base because it was easy and good value for money, noting that the film's below- the-line costs in China were $12.5 million.

The film — which also stars Liu Yifei, Li Bing Bing and Collin Chou — will see the Weinstein Co. distribute it in France, Spain, Latin America and other territories, offering the young Chinese talent huge international exposure.

The elder brother behind the Huayi Bros in Beijing, Wang Zhongjun has executive producer credit and David Lee is credited as co-executive producer.