Fresh spots for troubled duo

Hong Kong outfit's slate features Chinese actresses Zhao and Tang

New Hong Kong sales company Distribution Workshop is giving prominent place to two of China's top actresses, Vicky Zhao Wei and Tang Wei, who have had troubled careers.

Popular Chinese actress Zhao stars as the heroine of "Hua Mulan," a live-action version of the female hero tale Disney made as a 1998 animated feature.

The $12 million picture, with a screenplay by Iris Rey, heads the slate at Distribution Workshop, headed by "Infernal Affairs" producer Nansun Shi and former Media Asia executive Jeffrey Chan.

Distribution Workshop also recently added "Crossing Hennessy" to its Cannes slate, a comedy-drama that is only the second movie role for Tang, the banned star of Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution."

Scheduled to wrap next week, "Hua Mulan" is directed by Hong Kong's Jingle Ma and also stars Chen Kun, Hun Jun and Jackie Chan's son Jaycee Chan. Production is by Starlight International Media, PKU Starlight Group, Hunan TV, Beijing Galloping Horse Film & TV Production, Shanghai Film Group and Polybona Film Distribution.

Zhao, who provided one of the few moments of light relief in the battle-heavy "Red Cliff," achieved massive popularity through her TV work during the late 1990s but was banned from working after being photographed wearing a dress made from a Japanese battle flag.

By screenwriter-turned-director Ivy Ho Sai Hong, "Hennessy" is a tale of unlikely friendship between two thirtysomethings who are set up on a blind date. Jacky Cheung, Andy On and Maggie Cheung Ho Yee co-star. As a result of political backlash against "Lust, Caution," sparked by the film's sexuality and nuanced Japanese stance, Tang was banned from making films in China. She is now a Hong Kong resident.

"Hennessy" is produced by "Lust, Caution," "Hero" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" producer Bill Kong through Irresistible Films, a production fund aimed at helping rising talent. (partialdiff)