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Producers Ann An and Paula Wagner to Make War Drama About Heroic Chinese Nurse

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by Inkoo Kang
May 1, 2014 3:30 PM
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Chinese Producer Ann An

Last year, I wrote an article for The Atlantic defending the influx of Chinese money into the American film industry. The forced diversification of Hollywood is an overwhelmingly positive phenomenon, as I explain here: 

"Asian and Asian American actors will enjoy more big-screen opportunities. Chinese producers understandably tend to choose scripts that already contain Asian characters, or in some cases, as with Looper, ask for Chinese characters to be added to the film. It's bad enough that most studio (and independent) films tend toward Juno-levels of whiteness -- a fact that gets easily erased from discussions of a 'free America' and a 'restrictive China.' With studios routinely casting white actors for roles that are Asian on the page, thespians of Asian descent need all the roles they can get."

The same can be said of stories about Asians and Asian Americans. And thus I heartily welcome the news, detailed by The Hollywood Reporter, that producers Paula Wagner and Ann An are collaborating on a Sino-American co-production about Rita Wong (known as Huang Huanxiao in China), a legendary nurse who tended a group of American Air Force pilots known as the Flying Tigers during World War Two.

"I am looking for a Hollywood director who is interested in that period of history to work with us," said An, which almost sounds like a challenge to the film industry to bid for the project, since World War Two remains a perennially popular topic in Hollywood. (Angelina Jolie will be the latest director to revisit the era in her Oscar hopeful Unbroken.)

Veteran screenwriter Naomi Foner has been tapped to write the screenplay. She said, "The focus of this film is the war and love. We will balance the action and romance. We will interpret the touching love story in that war in a modern perspective and with modern technology." 

THR states that the budget for the wartime drama could go up to $50 million -- the largest budget for a Hollywood-financed film with an Asian female protagonist since 2005's Memoirs of a Geisha, an adaptation of a novel by a white male writer whose fascination with Japanese culture apparently began and ended with depictions of Asian women as sexualized victims. 

The proposed $50 million budget for the Rita Wong biopic would certainly be a big step up from the last film with Asian or Asian American female protagonists. Fox Searchlight's 2011 film Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - produced by Wendi Deng, Rupert Murdoch's ex-wife - and directed by Wayne Wang only had a budget of $6 million. 

If you want to read more about Wong's heroism during wartime, her determination to be educated as a child, and the beatings she endured during China's Cultural Revolution, click here and here

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