EXCLUSIVE: Warner Bros has acquired the Don Winslow bestselling novel Satori and will develop it as a star vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio to play a Westerner, raised in Japan and taught an assassin’s skills, who gets caught up in the chaos of post-WWII as the U.S., Soviet Union, France and China maneuver for power in Southeast Asia in the early 1950s. Shane Salerno will write the script with Winslow, and John Lesher’s Grisdi Productions and DiCaprio’s Appian Way partner Jennifer Killoran are producing. Salerno is executive producer.
DiCaprio will play Nicholai Hel, raised in Japan by a martial arts expert and genius at Go, the complex chess-like Japanese game. The master, a Japanese general, passes on all his secrets and the student repays him by murdering his mentor as an act of devotion; the military leader would have been disgraced and killed as a war criminal.
For that act, Hel is thrown in solitary confinement in a Tokyo prison and tortured for three years. He is finally sprung by the CIA after agreeing to assassinate the Soviet commissioner to China. Hel is trained for the task by a beautiful French woman he falls in love with. Though he now sees a happy ending to the dangerous assignment, Hel is betrayed by his backers and, using his Go skills for strategy, makes his way through Vietnam hunted by American, Chinese, Russian and French intelligence agencies as well as a Corsican mob and Vietnamese criminal syndicate. It’s a sophisticated thriller, and the studio sees potential for its own Jason Bourne-type action franchise.
It’s the second major studio deal for a Winslow bestseller, with director Oliver Stone completing production last week on Savages, which Salerno, Winslow and Stone scripted and which stars Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Benicio Del Toro, John Travolta, Salma Hayek and Emile Hirsch. Universal acquired the film in a three-studio bidding battle before production started, and the film will be released September 28, 2012.
DiCaprio will next be seen playing the title role in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, about FBI top cop J. Edgar Hoover, for Warner Bros. DiCaprio is currently starring as Jay Gatsby in the Baz Luhrmann-directed The Great Gatsby, and he will follow with the Quentin Tarantino-directed Django Unchained. He’s repped by Rick Yorn, Salerno’s repped by CAA, and Winslow by CAA and The Story Factory.