John Woo, CFG uncage Tiger film

Aviator pic in early stages, to be shot in Yunnan

BEIJING -- Director John Woo and the China Film Group will collaborate on a movie about the Flying Tigers, the American aviators who helped train the first generation of Chinese fighter pilots during World War II.

Woo's partner and producer Terence Chang said Tuesday that their company, Los Angeles-based Lion Rock Prods., and state-controlled CFG recently signed an agreement with the Yunnan provincial government to begin work on a film about Gen. Claire Lee Chennault training a ragtag group of Chinese Nationalists to fly against the Japanese invaders in southwest China and what was then called Burma.

"Over the years, there have been countless attempts to make the Flying Tigers story into a movie, but we couldn't get the support of the (communist) Chinese government," Chang said. "Now things have changed for the better, I think."

The project -- whose script is in the early stages -- launches in a year when China and the U.S. are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations. However, military ties are tense around a series of recent standoffs between the countries' respective naval forces.

Chang and Woo, working with a team of new Chinese and American scriptwriters, said they are not under pressure to finish quickly. "We will make this movie at its own pace," Chang said. "We've got to get it right."

Chennault's force, officially called the 1st American Volunteer Group, were a Yunnan-based squadron of paid former U.S. military men who in 1941 and 1942 flew iconic shark-faced fighter planes to destroy 300 Japanese aircraft while losing only 14 pilots. They were jointly commanded by Chennault and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Chinese Nationalists who in 1949, upon the communists rise to power, fled China for Taiwan.

In April, Woo and Chang canceled plans to shoot "1949," a romantic feature set in the final year of China's civil war, after the main investors in Taiwan sold the property by "Lust, Caution" scribe Wang Hui-ling to a Taiwan TV channel.

The Flying Tigers were first immortalized on screen in the 1942 John Wayne film "Flying Tigers."

Chang declined to discuss the project's reported $160 million budget but said that "it's not going to be a cheap film with John Woo directing."

It was unclear if the Tigers film will take off before another recently announced Woo project, "The Sword and the Martial Arts World," which Michelle Yeoh has said Woo will co-direct beginning in September with Taiwanese filmmaker Su Chao-pin.

Woo's two epic war films about the historical Chinese tales of the battle of "Red Cliff" were made for $80 million and grossed more than $150 million worldwide without a U.S. release. He dealt with World War II fighting with Japan in 2002's "Windtalkers."