Xinhua sets 5-film Sino-U.S. slate

Jet Li in talks to star in martial arts action pic 'The Cage'

BANGKOK-- After spending years with his feet firmly planted in two movie industries, producer David Lee is finally able to say that his efforts to bring Hollywood and China together are paying off.

Seven months after launching his Xinhua Media Entertainment, a Sino-U.S. co-production shingle set up in Los Angeles and Beijing, Lee on Tuesday announced a slate of five films to be made for $25 million-$50 million each.

Fredy Bush, CEO of XME parent Xinhua Finance Media -- a Beijing-based, Nasdaq-listed company with interests in broadcast, print and advertising -- said the slate "differentiates us from our competitors as each film has the high potential to become a global blockbuster."

The roster for XME's inaugural slate includes such Hollywood producers as Jon Shestack ("Air Force One") and Casey Silver, who Lee supported on "The Forbidden Kingdom," the recent hit starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li.

Insiders say that Li is in talks to star in the XME martial arts thriller "The Cage," among the first five films from a company founded to bring Hollywood talent together with the state-run China Film Group among other would-be Chinese partners.

Lee would not confirm or deny negotiations with Li but stressed that whoever stars in "Cage," XME is out to prove that it is about more than flying roundhouse kicks.

"We want to show the world that the Chinese film industry can do more than period martial arts pictures," he said in a phone interview from Beijing, where the former head of the Weinstein Co.'s Asian Film Fund spends much of his time.

Still, considering that "Forbidden Kingdom," written by John Fusco and produced by Silver, earned about $129 million worldwide, a Fusco-Silver redux might not be such a bad place for Lee to point XME at the outset, particularly if Li rejoins the team.

Although co-productions require casts be at least one-third Chinese and subject scripts and even finished films to approval by censors at the State Administration Radio Film and Television, they also all but guarantee a release in China, where boxoffice receipts have grown more than 30% a year on average the past five years.

"I'm thrilled to do another co-production in China," Silver said.

Other films in the XME slate include "Bullet Run," an international action thriller to be shot across China from producers Shestack, Max Wong and Karen Firestone.

"China is a beautiful country with astounding scenery and architecture. It will be great to shoot a movie there," Shestack said.

The slate also includes the first Sino-U.S. co-production shot in 3-D, a suspense thriller called "The Hunted," from producer Steve Squillante ("Witchblade"), director David Ellis ("Snakes on a Plane") and writers the Hayes brothers ("Whiteout").

XME said another film, titled "High Stakes," will be a high-concept action thriller and the first Sino-U.S. co-production to be shot in Las Vegas and Macau, South China's gambling capital. The film's producers are Matthew Rhodes ("Passengers"), Keri Selig ("The Stepford Wives") and Kia Jam ("Lucky Number Slevin").

Rounding out the slate is the previously announced live-action version of "Mulan," the Chinese tale of a girl warrior popularized in the West by Disney's animated version.

Lee said that directors and cast for each of the films will be announced in the coming months and that he hopes to soon be able to reveal more about XME's plans to make 12-15 movies over the next five years.