Chinese firms pounce on 'Mulan'

Xinhua, China Film Group team for live-action film

NEW YORK -- A $30 million live-action version of "Mulan," the legend of a heroic Chinese girl-warrior popularized by Disney's 1998 animated movie, will be among the first films made by Xinhua Media Entertainment in partnership with the state-run China Film Group.

A Hollywood-China co-production with MoviePlus and Arclight, the film is set to begin shooting in China in the spring, Christopher Brough, head of MoviePlus Canada, told The Hollywood Reporter on Monday.

Brough and Stephen Waterman, of MoviePlus in Los Angeles, will produce with XME managing director David Lee, former head of the Weinstein Co.'s Asia film fund.

"China Film and Xinhua came in with significant funding to make this a co-production when we met them at (the Festival de) Cannes in May," Brough said. "They liked that we were taking a Hollywood approach to a classic Chinese story."

In April, China Film and XME, a subsidiary of Nasdaq-listed XFMedia, announced an alliance to co-produce movies from offices in Beijing and Los Angeles.

Arclight's Easternlight label will sell distribution rights to "Mulan" at the upcoming American Film Market in Los Angeles, Arclight managing director Gary Hamilton said, adding that China, Taiwan and Hong Kong rights were presold by Lee.

Lee declined comment.

Hamilton said a director will be announced at AFM, and he will begin selling based on interest drummed up in France, South Korea, Japan and the U.K. after he sent around the script by debuting Canadian screenwriter Iris Rey.

Brough said Disney's animated version of the sixth century Chinese legend missed much of the nuance of the story of a girl who goes to war in her injured father's stead.

"The Disney toon version takes a 4-foot-high viewpoint, from a child's perspective," Brough said. "We will introduce Mulan at an older age and blend her story with a romance. Mulan is China's Joan of Arc story."

Correcting media reports in China during the weekend, Brough said the Access Asia film fund, which he co-founded in March with Hengdian World Studios outside Shanghai and Hong Kong's Salon Films, is not yet involved in the project.

"With regards to 'Mulan,' MoviePlus is producing with China Film and Xinhua, but Access Asia is not yet involved," Brough said.

Brough said Rey's script calls for a lot of locations, and that Hengdian, the world's largest backlot, and China Film's new suburban Beijing studio are being considered.

"The new Beijing studio holds appeal because it's within an hour's drive of the Great Wall, which has its appeal when you're telling a sixth century Chinese story," Brough said.