Chinese Regulators Approve 'Arabian Nights' for U.S.-China Co-Production

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Chuck Russell's long-anticipated 3D adventure project, starring Liam Hemsworth and Anthony Hopkins, will reportedly go into production in August.

HONG KONG -- Chuck Russell’s long-delayed adaptation of The Arabian Nights will soon be reinitiated as a China-U.S. co-production, after China’s Film Bureau cleared a script synopsis submitted by the film’s producers.

The application for official approval for Arabian Nights, which boasts a cast including Liam Hemsworth and Anthony Hopkins, was listed on the Film Bureau’s latest public notices released online on June 4. The entry listed the Chinese film company Zhejiang HG Entertainment and another entity called AN Holdings as filing the paperwork on May 10, with Russell named as the writer of the screenplay.

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The application was approved after adjustments were made to the synopsis, the notice stated. These official statements do not usually list exactly what changes are requested or made to the applications.

When Russell first unveiled Arabian Nights two years ago -- when preproduction was completed and Film District acquired the project’s U.S. rights at Cannes -- Chinese financiers were hardly on the radar. In fact, the film was originally shaped as a joint production to be backed by Kazakhstan’s state-owned studio, Kazakh Film, with Russell having signed a cooperation deal with the company in December 2011 and also claiming to have already scouted locations in the Central Asian country.

The film then dropped off the radar, until Zhejiang HG Entertainment began making noises about its involvement in the project. Speaking to the Chinese press earlier in the year, the company’s general manager Liu Zhijiang said production of Arabian Nights will begin in August, with Russell, Hemsworth and Hopkins still on board. Liu also said the film will have a budget of $70 million. 

While Liu has stopped speaking about Kazakh Film’s involvement in the project, it is now highly unlikely the film will be shot in Kazakhstan. Zhejiang HG Entertainment is one of the subsidiaries of Hengdian Group, the vast conglomerate that also runs the Hengdian World Studios, the largest shooting facility in China -- and the world.

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In previously released publicity material, Arabian Nights is described as “a visually stunning 3D retelling of the classic adventure tale about a bold, young commander who joins forces with Sinbad, Aladdin and his Genie to rescue Scheherazade and save her kingdom from the dark powers of an immortal sorcerer.”

Zhejiang HG Entertainment is also one of the backers of the Sino-Australia co-production 33 Postcards, starring Guy Pearce as a prison inmate who gets to meet the young Chinese woman he helped support with monthly payments sent to her country.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Film Bureau’s latest notices also revealed approved script synopses for sequels of several domestic blockbuster franchises, including a third installment for the fantasy action series Painted Skin and crime thriller Overheard. A second helping of the Donnie Yen-starring Iceman Cometh has also been greenlighted -- despite the first installment, which was marketed heavily at Cannes in May, still being in postproduction.

Hong Kong’s Media Asia has, alongside its mainland Chinese partners Rosat Film Production, also submitted a script synopsis for a sequel to Johnnie To’s rom-com Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, with the outline suggesting the reappearance of the characters played by the first film’s two leads, Louis Koo and Gao Yuanyuan. The project is shaping up as a mainland China-Hong Kong co-production.

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