New H.K. sales firm embraces actresses

Vicky Zhao Wei, Tang Wei have faced career hurdles

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CANNES -- 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 previously brought to the screen as a Disney animated feature.

The $12 million picture, with a screenplay by Iris Rey, heads the slate at Distribution Workshop, which is 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.

Other recent attempts to film the epic story of the Chinese girl-warrior Mulan, who disguises herself as a man in order to defend her father, have foundered. These included one by top Chinese screenwriter Wang Hui-ling ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") that was due to be produced by and star Michelle Yeoh and be directed by Stanley Tong, and another that was set to have starred Zhang Ziyi.

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

By screenwriter-turned-director Ivy Ho Sai Hong, "Crossing 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 the 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.

The picture 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.