'The Revenant' Executive Producer Talks 'Assassin's Creed,' India-China Film Ties

Philip Lee - Publicity - P 2016
Courtesy of NFDC



Philip Lee, who is attending the Film Bazaar in Goa, says he has been developing a possible India-China co-production.

At a time when film industry ties between Hollywood and China keep strengthening by the day, India and China can similarly explore such opportunities, producer Philip Lee tells The Hollywood Reporter.

The executive producer of such titles as Oscar-winning The Revenant, Cloud Atlas and Assassin's Creed, which stars Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender and opens in December, says collaborations between the two Asian giants, which signed a co-production treaty in 2014, "should really be driven by the content that can be jointly produced."

Lee is this week attending the Film Bazaar event in Goa, organized by the Indian government's National Film Development Corporation. The annual event, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, has become the go-to platform for India's evolving indie scene to be mentored and incubated through a mix of workshops, script and production labs and other sessions. Over the years, Film Bazaar has helped develop such projects as 2012 breakout The Lunchbox and films that have been selected as India's entries for the foreign-language race at the Oscars, such as 2014's Liar's Dice and last year's Court.

Lee will hold a master class at the Bazaar on Thursday titled “Mounting and Positioning the Epic Across Cultures.”

As someone who has been at the intersection of Hollywood and China since he started his career as Hong Kong line producer for films such as Dragon – The Bruce Lee Story and Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, Lee has now bridged that gap further with the recent launch of financing and production company Facing East Entertainment. Lee's earlier credits include such titles as Chen Kaige's The Emperor and the Assassin, Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou's Hero.

Co-founded with Lee's longtime producing partner Markus Barmettler, Facing East is currently producing Peter Segal’s sci-fi action title Inversion, scripted by Paul Haggis. The firm is also developing another sci-fi project, Shipbreaker, based on the award-winning book by Paolo Bacigalupi, which will also be scripted by Haggis, who will direct the project. The company has also partly financed Terrence Malick's Radegund, which is slated for a 2018 release.

Lee says the upcoming Jackie Chan starrer Kung-Fu Yoga "is a great example of connecting the right talent with the right content.” He feels that the Stanley Tong-directed film should do well, but he also points out that it is "probably an exception" in trying to create similar projects in future. "But I guess these things take time,” he adds. “Ten years ago, the relationship between Hollywood and China was nowhere close to where it is now [with Chinese investment growing in Hollywood and Hollywood movies doing such strong box office in China].”

On his part, Lee has been developing a possible India-China project, 19 Steps, since 2008 with well-known South Indian filmmaker Bharat Bala. “It is a historical fiction project and is based on an original story,” he says, emphasizing that the project is still at the planning stage.

While Lee admits he hasn't seen many Indian films, he says he is impressed with the talents of M. Night Shyamalan, who is of Indian origin. He lauds the director's The Sixth Sense as "the perfect example of a story that travels across cultures." He adds: "In Chinese and Indian culture, for instance, we are aware that the soul is still alive even if the body dies. But that was a unique concept for American and Western audiences, which is why the film did so well."

Lee also draws parallels to the ambitious Cloud Atlas, for which he helped raise part of its financing, as a film that tackled the subject of “reincarnation, which is something we know in Asian culture as well.” Lee tells THR that after Cloud Atlas came out, Nolan wrote a letter to directors the Wachowskis, saying that “the movie is great, but there's only one problem -- it is 20 years too early.”

Assassin's Creed star Fassbender was quoted as saying that he thought the film could be compared to The Matrix. Asked about that, Lee says that “the film travels between dimensions, so perhaps you could say it is something like The Matrix." The adaptation of the popular video game franchise centers on the centuries-long struggle between the Assassins and the Templars.

As for his upcoming projects, Lee tells THR he is working on a Broadway musical adaptation of Farewell My Concubine, which saw a 1993 film version directed by Chen Kaige. Says Lee: “Now here is another example of how Indian films – which are known for their song and dance – can perhaps be translated for Broadway."