Hong Kong-based Media Asia has acquired distribution rights to Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman for China. A Middle Kingdom release would be a coup for the director who was once banned from entering the country after the government objected to his 1997 Dalai Lama epic Kundun. The Irishman will star Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, teaming the latter with Scorsese for the first time in their storied careers. Paramount has domestic and the film would need to be approved in China once completed.

The Irishman is expected to shoot in 2017 with a domestic release eyed for late 2018. The mob picture was the subject of a heated bidding war in Cannes this year where STX Entertainment was ultimately victorious, acquiring international rights in a deal understood to be worth $50M. (The company has been strengthening ties to China, last week saying it had brought on the Middle Kingdom’s Tencent and Hong Kong’s PCCW as equity partners.)

Written by Oscar-winner Steve Zaillian, The Irishman is based on the Charles Brandt book I Heard You Paint Houses, which is the deathbed story from hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran about the disappearance and death of the former Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa. Zaillian previously scripted Scorsese’s Gangs Of New York.

The China rights deal was negotiated by Media Asia General Manager Fred Tsui and STX President of International Sales John Friedberg.