The British action hero could join Thai star Tony Jaa to lead a US$60 million crime film.
Jason Statham and Thai action movie star Tony Jaa have expressed interest in a $60 million Chinese co-production base on a real-life cross-border drug trafficking case, the project’s producer said on Friday.
Plans for Demon Hunter (猎魔行动 Liè mó xíngdòng) were unveiled in Beijing on Thursday at an event attended by Chinese film officials and police representatives as well as the project’s director JJ Perry and producer Bill Borden.
Borden has produced films like Kung Fu Hustle and Mission: Impossible 3 and was a co-executive producer for Stephen Chow’s record-breaker The Mermaid. JJ Perry was stunt coordinator for the John Wick films as well as London Has Fallen and The Expendables 3.
Behind the project is Beijing Hollywood Film and Media Development Co. Ltd., which is headed up by Lin Lu (琳露) and was co-founded by screenwriter Cory Tynan in late 2014. Partnering on the project is the Beijing Public Security Federation and the Guizhou Provincial Public Security Bureau.
Statham and Jaa had expressed interest in the project “in writing” but that their ultimate involvement would depend on the script which is still being worked on, Lin told China Film Insider on Friday. The selection of Chinese cast is underway.
The initial version of that script was written by Geng Huidong (耿慧东), who is also secretary general of a media firm directly controlled by China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS).
The movie is based on real-life events involving a Chinese professor who steals the patent of a drug and then sells his own version of it on the global market. An investigation into the case was carried out by both US and Chinese police, according to the producers.
Lin said the budget for the film will be RMB 400 million (~$60 million) and that at the moment her company was the only investor but there could be more “in the coming weeks.”
Co-productions are notoriously difficult to pull off but a project that comes with the imprimatur of China’s police force could have a better chance at succeeding. Successful co-productions are able to bypass the country’s film quota and allow foreign studios to get up to 43 percent of the Chinese domestic box office haul.
“The reason why we’re so confident this movie will be a success is because the story sells,” said Lin. “There’s no culture gap, no religious matters — it’s a police story.”
Last year’s highly successful action thriller Operation Mekong (湄公河行动) which was based on a 2013 incident when a Burmese drug gang ambushed two cargo ships and killed 13 Chinese nationals, followed a similar production model.
That film was also initiated by an MPS connected media firm which took their story to all of China’s major film studios to see which one could turn the story into a film. Bona Film Group’s pitch won and the subsequent film went on to earn RMB 1.1 billion ($159 million) making it the 17th highest-grossing film in China’s history.
Like Operation Mekong, Extraordinary Mission (非凡任务), which came out last weekend, was made by Hong Kong filmmakers in collaboration with China’s Public Security Bureau.
Partnering with agencies like this helps in getting a project off the ground and then through the final byzantine censorship approval process. That collaboration can include anything from advice on how things are done in China, to material support and even police escorts — according to some local reports.
Little more is known about the production company behind Demon Hunter as it marks the first film project for the wholly foreign-owned Beijing Hollywood Film and Media Development Co. Ltd. since its launch in late 2014.
The company’s website also lists Wendy Davis from TV’s Army Wives, New York film and TV producer Dana Kuznetzkoff as well as Alex Demyanenko and Michael Morrissey, as part of the team.
Shooting is expected to start in China from August to November.