Huayi's Diversion Focuses on 'Tai Chi' As First Project

China studio's Hong Kong label's inaugural project follows the life of a martial arts master.

HONG KONG -- Diversion Pictures, the new Hong Kong-based label established under China’s Huayi Brothers, is set to expand its inaugural project Tai Chi into a trilogy, Huayi Brothers Media Corp. president James Wang and Diversion CEO Stephen Fung told The Hollywood Reporter.

Diversion is set up by longtime friends Stephen Fung and Daniel Wu, who take the reins as CEO and chairman of the new label, respectively.  

Also in the pipeline for the boutique label is another remake of the John Woo classic, A Better Tomorrow, of which both Fung and Wu have been dedicated fans. The fledgling movie moguls have been developing the remake project for years, with the blessing of original director Woo. Fung and Wu, who had signed a five-year, 10-picture deal with Huayi Brothers, will executive produce.  

Tai Chi was originally slated as a martial arts drama tracing the life story of 19th century tai chi master Yang Lu-chan, with Jet Li confirmed as the lead and Stephen Fung at the helm.

But the colorful life of the founder of the Yang school of tai chi proved too eventful for the producers, who decided to spread the biography into a three-part series. Part one will detail the master’s young life from age 17 through 25, with an as yet-unconfirmed young Chinese actor in the lead. Li will take part in the second installment, and an older actor will portray the martial artist’s later years in the third.

The budget of part one is set at $15 million, with production scheduled to start in June for a summer 2012 release. Subsequent installments are planned for release in the next two summers, but there won’t be a continuous shoot for Fung. Academy Award-winning art director Tim Yip is on board, and Hong Kong digital house Fatface will be in charge of effects.  

Having launched in late February, the “Plan H,” a 10-film director-oriented slate that includes hitmakers Feng Xiaogang, Tsui Hark, Doze Niu, Jackie Chan and Stanley Tong, Huayi Brothers is aiming for a 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) yearly box office for the company after China’s box office reached that number in 2010, James Wang said (the China-listed company took in 1.7 billion yuan last year). But Huayi’s support in Diversion stemmed more from an interest in fostering a young audience.

“Daniel and Stephen are not setting up the label to make vanity projects for themselves,” Wang said. “Their ideas are young and fresh, and the budget they propose are modest. The movie audiences in China nowadays are quite mature, but these guys know how to attract a younger audience. A studio needs an independent production label like theirs; they are making films for the audience in the future 10 to 20 years.”

Wang and Fung aim for Diversion to revolutionize conventional genres, to branch out and develop projects not only within the Chinese-speaking regions but also Hollywood scripts that can be transplanted to China.

“We try to make use of our connections in Hong Kong and in the U.S.,” said Fung, who directed Jump for Sony Pictures. Wu is repped by Creative Artist Agency, which is also the strategic partner in Diversion.

“Our edge over other companies is our connections, and also for the lack of any language barrier,” Fung said. “We know at first glance whether a script works in China or not. Unlike before, when Hollywood remakes Asian films, we will try to find projects that can travel to China. We’re trying to take advantage of the growing Chinese market.”