EXCLUSIVE: Plenty of China-U.S. co-production ventures are trying to get off the ground in the fight to find a foothold in the lucrative Chinese film market, and plenty start with high expectations but no product. Here’s a new outfit that might be bucking that trend: A group of Chinese investors have launched Hero Films, run by chairman Peter Luo, which has a deep pool of resources and has opened offices in Melbourne and Los Angeles. The company plans to finance 3-5 films a year with financial partner China Wit Media and already is ramping up a slate of five pics already in development that it plans to finance, produce and distribute keying on the U.S. and China markets.
And here’s something different. It already has its first production in the works: Manhattan Love Story, a romantic comedy starring Adrien Brody and Chinese star Ni Ni and directed by Andy Tennant (Hitch). Brody’s Fable House production company, itself a Chinese co-venture, will also produce, and the pic is set to start shooting next month in New York with a $15 million budget. Tennant wrote the script with Rick Parks and Brody.
The idea is to back U.S.-China co-productions with name stars that resonate in the world’s two biggest film markets. Hero Films has a structured investment platform with a significant funding pool — hearing it’s $1B-plus — and a team led by Luo, Tony Pan, Beely Lee and Jonathan Sanger that will plant their flag in domestic and international film finance, production, and distribution.
Manhattan Love Story centers on a pair who are from far different lands and backgrounds — he’s Italian, she’s Chinese. They meet and through a series of comedic and touching moments centered on their cultural differences and fall in love in modern New York City.
Ni Ni, a big star in China, is most known to U.S. audiences for co-starring opposite Christian Bale in Zhang Yimou’s 2011 epic The Flowers Of War.
Brody is the smart choice to cross-pollinate U.S. and Chinese stars in movies for both markets. The Oscar winner recently produced and co-starred in Dragon Blade, which opened in China during the New Year holiday in February. It bowed at No. 1 with $72M in its first week and grossed more than $120 million in its first month. Jackie Chan co-produced and co-starred with John Cusack. Lionsgate Premiere releases the pic stateside on September 4. He also starred in Feng Xiaogang’s 2012 pic Back To 1942 about the China-Japan war.“I feel a deep connection to Asia,” Brody told Deadline in March. “I’ve been able to develop close friendships with a core group of extremely talented filmmakers and financiers, who have opened many doors.”
Dragon Blade‘s success came the same month box revenues in China exceeded those in the U.S. for the first time ever. In February, the U.S. box office grossed $640 million compared to China’s $650 million — albeit the latter figure was boosted by a host of Chinese New Year releases. Total box office for the February 19-24 period in the Middle Kingdom was a record 1.73B yuan ($276.4M).Paradigm reps Hero Films, Brody and Tennant and helped orchestrate this deal. The agency will handle North American rights for the film.