Toronto 2011: Top U.S. Buyers Get First Glimpse of Christian Bale's 'The Flowers of War'

YAO/New Pictures Film

It's the first time footage has been screened for domestic and international distributors; the big-budget project was previously titled 'Heroes of Nanking.'

TORONTO—The window shopping began at the Toronto Film Festival just before noon on Friday as a parade of top executives—from Harvey Weinstein to James Schamus to Rob Friedman -- watched the first footage from Chinese epic The Flowers of War, starring Christian Bale.

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The historical drama—directed by Zhang Yimou and produced by Zhang Weiping -- was previously titled Heroes of Nanking, in part a reference to Bale’s character, who helps protect a group of school girls and prostitutes during the Japanese assault on Nanking in 1937.

“We felt that the roles of the women were so powerful, so crucial, and we wanted the title to convey that,” said FilmNation CEO Glen Basner, who is selling the $90 million project internationally. The movie was produced by Wieping thorugh his New Pictures Film Banner.

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Flowers of War -- executive produced by David Linde and Chao Ying Deng, who are selling the film domestically for New Pictures-- could be a defining moment for the Chinese film industry, which is positioning the film to become a major international and U.S. player -- as well as an award contender.

The film, which is at least 60% in English with the rest in Mandarin, cost $90 million to make.

The title change could make the movie an easier sell to international audiences, and especially younger moviegoers, who likely don’t remember the infamous “Rape of Nanking,” a battle that lasted 20 days and during which thousands of Chinese were massacred.

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Other buyers showing up for Friday’s screening included FilmDistrict’s Peter Schlessel, Roadside Attractions’ Howard Cohen and Eric d’Arbeloff, Sony Pictures Classics’ Michael Barker and Tom Bernard, as well as executives from Lionsgate and Paramount. Summit Entertainment’s Patrick Wachsberger attended the event with Friedman, his colleague, while Bob Weinstein joined his brother. Focus Features also double-teamed it, with both Schamus and president Andrew Karpen watching the footage.

By mid-afternoon, insiders said there’s definite in the film among U.S. buyers.

Because Flowers of War is opening in China in December, the filmmakers want a late-December release in the U.S. in time for an awards run. The producers would prefer to open the movie nationwide at the domestic box office, versus a limited debut. Both could be a sticking point, since many companies have full slates.

And several buyers questioned whether a limited release might be better. Even with the film’s spectacle, it could initially appeal to more of an arthouse crowd. Also, the year-end holiday is already crowded in terms of big, studio titles.