Cannes: Before Action Starts On ‘Crouching Tiger 2,’ Harvey Weinstein Woos Donnie Yen And Yuen Wo Ping For ‘Seven Samurai’

Right after my Deadline Hollywood colleague Pete Hammond moderated a Weinstein Company panel this morning on Big Eyes, the film that Tim Burton will direct with Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams, I moderated another on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Destiny, a sequel to the 2000 film that won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and at the time became the biggest grossing foreign language film in America. I was joined onstage by producer David Thwaites, Harvey Weinstein, actor Donnie Yen, director and martial arts choreography legend Yuen Wo Ping (he handled action choreography of the Ang Lee-directed original Crouching Tiger). Also with us was exec producer Anthony Wong, who translated for the director. Michelle Yeoh was seen on a screen, after being set to reprise her role. Scripted by John Fusco, this film is derived from Iron Knight, Silver Vase, the fifth book in the Wang Dulu’s Crane Iron Pentalogy. Fusco borrowed from some of the other books, but made the final title his primary focus. Weinstein acknowledged he courted Yen very hard to make his first English language movie with TWC (this will be shot in both English and Mandarin), and wasted no time setting the stage for a followup. Noting that Martin Scorsese helped him get rights to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Weinstein enlisted both Yen and Yuen Wo Ping to at least have a conversation with him about it.

There will always be cynicism when a ground breaking film like Crouching Tiger is sequelized without the original filmmaker. Crouching Tiger 2, they said, had the benefit of steep mythology from the books by the late author Wang Dulu, and many feel his last book was the best one. Having seen some of Yen’s films, and having marveled at the artistry that Master Yuen achieved in films from Kill Bill to The Matrix, it was a treat to at least try to prod them into revealing something. Weinstein, who honestly could have spoken on Asian and martial arts fare for five hours had I not interrupted, made it a point to note that in his mind, the pedigree of Lee’s original Crouching Tiger was honored by the return of Yeoh and by the participants, and because of the source material he acquired from the author’s family.

He noted Ridley Scott’s Alien might have been slightly bettered by James Cameron’s sequel, and that others have flourished after the original director departed. It is always a challenge to interview someone aided by their translator (I did it once with Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon). You ask a question that lends itself to an anecdotal answer, you watch it get translated to someone like Master Yuen, watch a long thoughtful answer back, and then watch the translator look up and say, “He says yes.” Wong did his best to avoid that, telling how Master Yuen was drawn into the business by his stuntman father. What got me was just how soft-spoken and humble Master Yuen was, considering the explosion of action and mayhem his movies contain. Donnie Yen said he owed his career to Master Yuen, and I found myself wondering if their re-team after so many years might Yen achieve some of the stature in America he holds in Asia, where he’s a rock star. Yen said that wasn’t as important to him as making a good film that could travel, but I for one continue to wait for an Asian action star to rise in the U.S. the way that Bruce Lee did. While a handful of stars made successful transitions – Jackie Chan and Jet Li first and foremost – no one has yet approached what Lee accomplished in a brief period. Maybe this will be Yen’s chance. He has the matinee idol looks that Lee did.

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