Zhang Ziyi on board for 'Flower'

To star in and co-produce English-language drama

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BEIJING -- Zhang Ziyi is joining Wendi Murdoch and Florence Sloan in producing "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan," an English-language drama starring Zhang. Wayne Wang has come aboard as director.

Set in 19th century remote China, the film revolves around the lifelong friendship of Lily and Snow Flower and their imprisonment by rigid cultural codes of conduct for women.

Producers were scheduled for talks during the coming days with potential backers and distributors at AFM.

Although it would be Zhang's second feature as producer, "Flower" would be the first in partnership with Murdoch, the China-born wife of News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch. Sloan, who is Malaysian-Chinese, is married to MGM chairman Harry Sloan.

The nascent partnership appears to have Zhang -- perhaps China's most exportable female star -- following the practice of big Hollywood talent: establishing her own production company to pull in projects for herself and control a greater share of revenue.

The "Snow Flower" script, based on the novel by Lisa See, was penned by Wang and screenwriter Michael Ray, collaborators on Wang's 2007 film "The Princess of Nebraska." Shooting is expected to begin early next year in China.

Zhang is coming off a Chinese boxofffice success with the contemporary urban romantic comedy "Sophie's Revenge," her first film as producer.

Her most recent big international project was Rob Marshall's 2005 film "Memoirs of a Geisha," also an English-language Asian period piece based on a novel. That performance drew best actress noms from BAFTA, SAG and the Golden Globes.

"Memoirs" cost $85 million to make and grossed about $162 million worldwide for Sony/Columbia.

"Snow Flower" will be Wang's first film made in China. Born and raised in Hong Kong, he moved to the U.S. when he was 17. His 1985 film "Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart" put him on the critics' radar, but it wasn't until 1993's "The Joy Luck Club" that Wang gained wider recognition.

His 2002 romantic comedy "Maid in Manhattan," starring Jennifer Lopez, grossed $94 million in North America and $61 million internationally.