BREAKING: I’ve read about the supposed bad blood between Harvey Weinstein and Annapurna Pictures principal Megan Ellison over the subpar box office grosses of The Master. But any idea they’re not doing business together seems to be a bit crunched by a new deal they’ve just made. The Weinstein Company has acquired all rights in the U.S. and English-speaking Canadian territories from Annapurna on Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster, which premieres tonight as the opening film at the Berlin Film Festival. TWC also landed rights to Australia, New Zealand, and the UK from Wild Bunch.
The Grandmaster, written by Wong, Zou Jingzhi, and Xu Haofeng, was executive produced by Ellison (she has money in the movie), and produced by Jacky Pang and Wong. The film opened to critical praise last month in China and has just reached over $50 million at the box office there, making it the director’s highest-grossing film in his career.
I’m sure there is uneasiness between Ellison and Weinstein. In an interview I did with him at Sundance, Weinstein acknowledged their mutual disappointment over The Master and how it didn’t break out, with Ellison not coming near recouping the $35 million or so that she spent to make the film. In hindsight, Weinstein felt he could have helped by selling the more relate-able theme of the homebound warrior who’s lost and looking for something to believe in, rather than the origins of Scientology theme that stuck with the film and didn’t get a strong response.
It is an epic martial arts drama set against the tumultuous backdrop of 1930s China and inspired by the life and times of the legendary IP Man (Tony Leung), mentor to Bruce Lee. The story focuses on two kung fu masters, IP Man, and Gong Er, and as their worlds collide on the night of the Japanese invasion in 1936. The plot encompasses themes of war, family, revenge, desire, love, and memory. The all-star cast headed by Tony Leung Chiu Wa also includes Ziyi Zhang, Chang Chen, Xiao Shengyang and Song Hye Kyo as well as hundreds of Asia’s top martial artists.
Wong said: “I am pleased to continue our long-time and multi picture collaboration with TWC on The Grandmaster. With Harvey’s expertise and his passion for this genre, I am confident that he and his team will reach new heights with The Grandmaster by cultivating hard-core action fans as well as exciting and pleasing those long time fans of my films.”
“We here at TWC feel truly honored to be able to continue our relationship with Wong Kar Wai and Annapurna”, said Weinstein. “Wong Kar Wai is such an extraordinary filmmaker, and The Grandmaster is no exception as he takes the audience on an exciting and emotional ride. Annapurna has come to be one of the great cutting-edge new companies in our industry. They have produced numerous award-winning films including Zero Dark Thirty, and The Master which we had partnered on, and we are absolutely thrilled to be working with them again as they have shown invaluable support to our campaigns”.
The deal was negotiated by TWC COO David Glasser and Michal Podell Steinberg, EVP Business and Legal Affairs and Acquisitions, with Chris Corabi on behalf of Annapurna and attorney George Hayum for Fortissimo. CAA, Hayum and Schwartzman represented Kar Wai on the deal.