Uni taps Makowski for 'Shinobi' redo


BEIJING -- Universal Pictures has signed Max Makowski to remake the 2005 action hit "Shinobi," bought from Shochiku in Japan, as a modern day "Romeo and Juliet" set in Hong Kong, the writer-director confirmed in an interview Wednesday.

"Of all the projects that have led me in the direction of Hollywood, this project with Universal is the one that clicked," Makowski said of the deal signed last week with Universal's Jeffrey Kirshenbaum.

Makowski, a Brazilian who has lived in Hong Kong since 1985, has worked for local film heavyweights Golden Harvest and Salon Films, and his Harvey Keitel starrer "One Last Dance" unspooled at Sundance in 2006.

"Of all the studios talking about making fiscally responsible pictures, Universal has the corporate structure and the lexicography to make films in an independent style, a la Hong Kong filmmaking," with a budget that produces a film that looks like it cost twice as much, Makowski said.

The son of a banker, whose travel saw him grow up as an expatriate, Makowski said his version of the story of star-crossed lovers from rival clans will impart a sense of the history of Hong Kong -- a British colony until 1997 and longtime banking center.

"The one real universal in today's world is the look of the banker. Police look different, whores look different, but bankers look the same the world over," Makowski said. "I want to take that universal and add a little excitement through battle and tell the story of Hong Kong at the same time."

The script will track an intergenerational feud between two security firms -- one historically British and based on the Jardines of Hong Kong's colonial past; the other Chinese and based in Guangzhou, the bustling capital of the mainland province to the north. A love story between a white man and Chinese woman, it will, 'really tap a rivalry that still exists today,' " Makowski said.

Universal is "looking for a PG-13, not a hard R," rating, said Makowski, who aims to deliver a workable draft in October and hopes the film will shoot in Hong Kong with a local crew of industry veterans such as line producer Arthur Wong and Titus Ho, both of whom he has worked with before.

Spitfire Pictures and Circle of Confusion will co-produce, with producer credits going to David Alpert, David Engel, Rick Jacobs, Nigel Sinclair, Guy East and Tobin Armbrust, Makowski said. If the film shoots in Hong Kong as planned, Makowski's own fledgling production services company FilmOrient will co-produce as well.

Of his first film, 1998's black and white Sundance Frontiers section entry "The Pigeon Egg Strategy," Makowski said: "I expected that one to lead me to Hollywood, but it was 'One Last Dance,' which I'm not that happy with, instead. On paper, the interest seems disproportionate, but perhaps it's timing. There's now unprecedented interest in Asia."

Makowski said he and Dalbag Khaira, his partner at FilmOrient, which is based in Hong Kong and has partners in Shanghai and Bangkok, hope to build a bridge between Asia and the West.