Christian Bale Chinese Epic 'Flowers of War' Nears U.S. Distribution Deal (Exclusive)

Flowers of War Still
YAO/New Pictures Film

UPDATED: New indie outfit Wrekin Hill has finalized its pact to release Zhang Yimou's big-budget historical drama in time for an awards run in association with Row 1 Productions.

One of the biggest movies of the year is going to be seen by American moviegoers.

Chris Ball's new independent distribution company Wrekin Hilll Entertainment, in association with Row 1 Entertainment, has picked up North American rights to Zhang Yimou's ambitious Chinese epic The Flowers of War, starring Christian Bale.

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Insiders say Wrekin Hill will wage an awards-qualifying run in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco in late December and then expand the film through the early part of 2012. From the outset, producer Zhang Weiping envisioned Flowers of War, set during the Japanese occupation of Naking in 1937, as an awards player this year. Weiping financed the $90 million-budgeted film through his New Pictures Film Banner.

The movie already is China's official Oscar entry for best foreign language picture, but once it gets a U.S. release, it can be submitted in other categories, including acting and directing. Zhang's credits include House of Flying Daggers and Hero.

Wrekin Hill was formed late last year by Ball upon his departure from Newmarket Films, which he co-founded. The company's first release was the Sundance Film Festival entry Hesher. Ball is a veteran distribution executive and has the room on his slate to make an aggressive awards push for Flowers of War.

VIDEO: 'Flowers of War' Trailer

Flowers of War will have a wide release in China on December 16 following premieres in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Zhang Yimou's film tells the story of an American who finds himself trapped in China's capital city when it is overrun by the Japanese Imperial Army in 1937. Pretending to be a priest, he hides out at a church compound that is a girls school. Soon, a group of prostitutes also find refuge there as the Japanese overtake and massacre the residents of Nanking.

Also starring Shigeo Kobayashi, the film is 60 percent in Mandarin and 40 percent in English, and was adapted from Geling Yan's book The 13 Women of Nanjing. Heng Liu wrote the screenplay.

"The Flowers of War just blew me away. Not only is it incredibly powerful but the artistry is absolutely sensational. We are really excited to be bringing this wonderful film to North American audiences," Ball said.

Zhang Weiping added: "We were very impressed by the passion that Wrekin Hill Row showed for the film. Their aggressive release strategy coupled with their desire to focus on an effective awards campaign for The Flowers of War immediately captured our attention."

David Linde and Chaoying Deng are executive producing Flowers of War. North American rights will be licensed directly by New Pictures, along with Deng and Linde and Stephen Saltzman of Loeb & Loeb.

Glen Basner's FilmNation is handling international rights outside the U.S., China and several major Asian territories.

The deal for North American rights was negotiated by Deng, Linde and Saltzman for the filmmakers, Ball and Rene Cogan on behalf of Wrekin Hill and Brandt Anderson on behalf of Row 1.

The Beverly Hills-based Row 1 was founded by a group of investors including orthopedic surgeon Dr. Rick Lehman. This year, the company has put up for financing for Lay the Favorite, Frozen Ground, starring Nicolas Cage, and Broken City, starring Mark Whalberg and Russell Crowe.