Zhang Yimou, the premiere director in China, commands top budgets; he produced the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony and directed Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, Hero and House of Flying Daggers. Now Zhang has erected a massive city and full-scale Cathedral in Beijing for his latest period epic, Heroes of Nanking, which recently wrapped principal photography after 164 days. The movie cost $100 million, more than John Woo's Red Cliff, Zhang's usual producer/financeer Zhang Weiping revealed in Cannes.
Movies on the scale of Nanking, as Red Cliff proved, can make their budgets back in Asia alone. But China hopes to change that. The presence of last year's Oscar-winning Christian Bale (The Fighter) means that Beijing's New Pictures, Zhang, and exec producers David Linde, Deng Chaoying and Bill Kong, who showed materials to potential buyers in Cannes, expect FilmNation's Glen Basner to sell the film to global distributors at this September's Toronto Film Festival. They're also hoping for a North American company willing to open the film by year's end for Oscar consideration (North American rights are repped by Stephen Saltzman of Loeb & Loeb).
The film is about 40% English and 60 % Mandarin, reports Film Asia. The film is set to open in China on December 16, 2011, but according to the Academy it will need to play a qualifying week before October 1 to be eligible for the foreign Oscar-- if it is submitted by China, of course.
Liu Heng adapted Yan Geling's historical novel about an American priest (Bale), who rather than leave Nanking, shelters a group of prostitutes as well as young schoolgirls in his church during the intense six week 1937 battle between the Chinese and Japanese. Two other excellent recent films cover the infamous Nanking Massacre, during which some 200,000 Chinese were killed, and about 20,000 women and children raped, tortured and killed: Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman's horrific 2007 doc Nanking, and Chuan Lu's elegant cinematic drama, City of Life and Death (which China shockingly did not submit) is in current release.