Spy Thriller '355' Adds New Chinese Backer — but Loses a Castmember (Exclusive)

'355' female stars - H 2018
Courtesy of THR

The female-led spy film gains new life as Han Sanping and Alex Zhang’s Golden Title replaces Huayi Brothers while Marion Cotillard leaves the project.

Cannes giveth, Cannes taketh away.

The female-led spy film 355, which marked last year’s biggest sale on the Croisette, has added a key investor. THR has learned that Beijing industry veteran Han Sanping and Alex Zhang’s Golden Title will come in to replace Huayi Brothers on the film that nearly fell apart in the wake of star Fan Bingbing’s tax evasion scandal in her native China. But just as the project was salvaged, French star Marion Cotillard pulled out, citing personal reasons. That means the film’s fab five — which also includes Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o and Penélope Cruz — has shrunk to four.

Still, the fact that the Simon Kinberg-helmed 355 is getting off the ground at all is no small feat. After Fan, China’s biggest female star, went missing in the middle of a government crackdown on celebrity tax dodgers, the film’s fate hung in limbo. When the film sold last year, Universal paid $20 million for U.S. rights, while Huayi Bros. put up a matching $20 million for distribution rights in China. But Huayi Bros. walked away amid the Fan scandal, leaving the project — with a budget said to be $75 million-plus — in jeopardy.

A source says Golden Title is coming in for a much smaller price tag than Huayi’s $20 million. The reduced price reflects Fan’s newly uncertain status in China’s enormous film market. If there’s anyone who can help Fan successfully navigate her rehabilitation, however, it’s 355’s new backer Han, the former head of state-backed distributor China Film Group. Few in the Beijing film business have Han’s depth of connections and industry savvy. Now, the film is moving toward a July start date in Paris, but without Cotillard on board. However, Kinberg isn’t done casting, with Sebastian Stan and Edgar Ramirez recently joining the globe-trotting film. CAA Media Finance negotiated the deal with Golden Title. 

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's May 15 daily issue at the Cannes Film Festival.