China opens to 'Forbidden'


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NEW YORK -- "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 said.

If a Chinese premiere is approved by the authorities who control film releases, 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 the world premiere date was imminent.

Lionsgate will release the film on 3,000 screens in North America on April 18. It was executive produced by Ryan Kavanaugh of Relativity Media in Los Angeles.

Silver said 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."

Cinematography was by Peter Pau ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") and action choreography by Yuen Woo-ping.

Silver said government censors made requests for minimal changes that 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.

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 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."

A lot has changed since the mid-1980s for Hollywood producers working in China, and "Kingdom" was a dream come true for de Laurentiis.

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 since Lee.

"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 and less than half of that was at Hengdian, which she called "strange" but "good value for money."

They tell you they won't charge you for something, then they do. I told them it'd be better simply to have a price list. Some people don't want to go there, but I think the production values are very high for what you're paying,' " de Laurentiis said.

Still, de Laurentiis said that some things about the Chinese filmmakers have not changed since "TaiPan." "There's a lot more freedom now, and they've done more big movies now, so there's more experience, but they still want to do things their way, so I try to remember my European roots and the saying "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

In the mid-1980s Chinese filmmakers had no understanding of the "time is money" concept that caused shooting schedule changes when the weather changed, she said. "Nowadays, they understand this too well."

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 is executive producer, and David Lee is co-executive producer.