EXCLUSIVE: In a week when numerous bigwigs from China’s entertainment companies have descended on Los Angeles for various U.S.-China summits, word comes that Hatchet Men: The Story of the Tong Wars in San Francisco’s Chinatown is being developed as a feature film. Richard H. Dillon’s 2012 book is being adapted by Michael Thomas (The 33), who will produce and co-write with Australian writer Morgan Duncan. The film will star Falling Water‘s Will Yun Lee, who will also produce.
Lee will star as Little Pete — the infamous, charismatic, ferocious leader of Chinatown at the turn of the 20th century in the midst of a politically explosive San Francisco. Lee has a fifth-degree black belt in taekwondo and will showcase those talents in Hatchet Men. The time seems ripe for another Bruce Lee on film, given all the interest in the Chinese film market.
The name of the book, Hatchet Men, was taken literally from hatchet-wielding killers who would silence any opposition to their bosses who ruled San Francisco’s Chinatown in the late 1880s through the 1920s. The phrase later became part of American lexicon describing someone who does their boss’ dirty work.
Chicago had their gang wars between syndicated crime families and Chinatown had its Tong wars. As the conflicts between rival gangs ripped through San Francisco’s Chinatown, the Chinese inhabitants lived under a reign of terror. Opium was abundant as were “slave girls,” women imported for the purpose of prostitution. At the center was Little Pete. With his command of the English language, his incredible ability to fight, mixed with his sociopathic charisma and lack of fear, he ran Chinatown and manipulated the corrupt American politicians. From it, he built a criminal empire.
“I’ve always gravitated toward the rich, untold stories of Asians in America,” said Lee, who often is sought after for roles in both TV and film now. “Finding a world where you can bring the kinetic energy of The Raid and the texture of Boardwalk Empire is an exciting project to be a part of.”
Mark Holder and Christine Holder are producing for Zero Gravity, which repped Lee in the deal. Zero Gravity currently has Ben Affleck’s The Accountant in theaters as well as television series Ozark in production at Netflix with Jason Bateman starring.
Lee, who toplines USA’s Falling Water for Blake Masters and Gale Anne Hurd, is repped at APA and Zero Gravity. Duncan is repped at Zero Gravity. Thomas is repped by Casaratto, Ramsay and Associates.