Chinese-North American pacts close Whistler


VANCOUVER -- Movie production deals between Chinese and North American partners capped off the Whistler Film Festival, which wrapped Sunday with a juried awards ceremony.

Los Angeles-based producer Movie Plus said it has pacted with Beijing talent agency PKU Starlight Group to co-produce the $30 million movie Chinese movie "Mulan."

Also in Whistler, David Miller (Amal) of Toronto-based producer Channel Zero said he's to partner with JA Media on Hong director Anne Hui's $8 million adaptation of "Concubine's Children," by Canadian novelist Denise Chong.

The deals follows a push by Whistler this year to promote itself as a hub for Asian-North American movie partnerships that includes U.S. financing.

Movie Plus and PKU Starlight will jointly produce a live action version of "Mulan" after Disney in 1998 made an animated movie based on the popular Chinese legend about a young girl that spent 12 years in the army disguised as a man.

"Mulan" will be shot at the giant Hengdian Studios in eastern China's Zhejiang province.

Steve Waterman, president of Movie Plus (Alvin and the Chipmunks) said casting an American lead will require the 90-day "Mulan" shoot to start by March to ensure the movie is in the can before a possible U.S. actors strike next summer.

Waterman added the creative for "Mulan" has been driven by PKU Starlight Group, which has turned to Movie Plus to ensure overseas appeal for the Chinese film.

"It's their (Chinese) vision to make it an international film," he said.

Post on "Mulan" will take place in Vancouver at Dotcom Productions, which is headed up by Chris Brough, Movie Plus' Canadian partner.

There's no word on casting. Chinese actresses Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi have been rumored as possible leads.

PKU Starlight will retain the Asian rights to "Mulan," while Movie Plus grabs all other foreign rights.

Gua Shu, general manager of international affairs at PKU Starlight, said "Mulan" will showcase Chinese culture internationally just as the emerging Asian giant gets set to host the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

She added the movie will illustrate Chinese thinking about women and family as the folk legend has Mulan disguised as a man to take her elderly father's place in the army.

"Mulan loves her parents as the family is important to the Chinese. She went to war on behalf of her father," Shu explained.

Harry Sutherland, president of Vancouver-based producer Longtale Entertainment, brought PKU Starlight and Movie Plus together. He said the prime value for the "Mulan" deal between the Chinese, Canadian and American partners lay in building ties and laying the groundwork for future movie deals.

Sutherland added the "Mulan" deal plants the flag for future movie deals where a Canadian producer brings together Asian and American partners.

In addition, enlisting Hengdian Studios' facilities aims to ensures a smoother movie-making process on the ground in China.

Tiger Yu, a Hengdian Studios consultant, said Asia's largest studio complex can accommodate a project like "Mulan" where the script calls for sweeping shots, including the young heroine on horseback accompanied by 500 horsemen.

On the competition front, Whistler awarded the Borsos Award for the best new Canadian feature film to Stephane Lafleur's black comedy "Continental, a Film Without Guns," while its award for the best mountain culture film went to the Eric Pehota-starrer "Steep," a feature about "big mountain" skiing from Mark Obenhaus.

"Transcending the typical ski film, Steep contains all the elements of a great film – a sweeping story arc, empathetic character development, spectacular filming and visceral, unbelievable shots – while telling the story of the evolution of extreme skiing," the Whistler jury, led by Canadian director Atom Egoyan, said in a statement.

Whistler also gave its best actor award to Rupinder Nagra for his star-turn in Richie Mehta's "Amal," while Maya Batten-Young earned the best actress trophy for her role in Mark Wihak's "River."

In all, Whistler unspooled 92 features and shorts during its Thursday to Sunday run.