EXCLUSIVE: John Woo and Terence Chang might well be getting off the tarmac first with their WWII saga Flying Tigers. But New Regency, 20th Century Fox, and Tom Cruise are still fighting the good fight on a rival project that carries the  identical title. They’ve hired Kirk Ellis to rewrite a draft of Flying Tigers that was done by Cruise’s Valkyrie scribe Christopher McQuarrie and Mason Alley. Both films are based on the story of the volunteered fighter squadron formed by General Claire Chennault to help the Chinese fight against the Empire of Japan before the United States entered WWII. The aging Chinese planes were no match for the superior Japanese forces, until the volunteers arrived in American-made P-40 War Hawks. The two squadrons flew side by side, in fighter planes emblazoned with the gaping tiger’s teeth logo. After Pearl Harbor, the Flying Tigers became an effective squadron in the U.S. Air Force. Jeff Greene is producing.

Cruise has long wanted to play a pilot in a period war movie, and has been attached to several WWII aviator pictures. He’s always got multiple offers, and I’m told reliably that despite reports, he is not attached to the Warner Bros script El Presidente. He’s obviously not taking part in the Flying Tigers movie directed by his Mission: Impossible 2 helmer Woo, who with Chang have mounted a Hollywood-China joint production with China Film Group as the lead Chinese financier. They expect to shoot next spring, and signed a deal for the footage to be remastered for the IMAX Experience. My experience on these races is that whether it was The Last Samurai (a race Cruise won) or Alexander the Great, once a picture makes it into production, the other one gets shelved.

Ellis won two Emmy Awards for the HBO miniseries John Adams, writing 7 episodes of the mini.