Beresford to Pilot $100M China Co-Pro on American Raid on Tokyo in WWII

  • Beresford to direct his first film with a China connection since Mao’s Last Dancer in 2009
  • State-backed partner worked on 2011 propaganda film about Communist Party origins
  • Special effects will be by Tau Films’ John Hughes, formerly of Rhythm & Hues
Navy Capt. Marc A. Mitscher, skipper of the USS Hornet, chats with Lt. Col. James Doolittle. (Public domain, U.S. Navy photo)

Navy Capt. Marc A. Mitscher, skipper of the USS Hornet, chats with Lt. Col. James Doolittle. (Public domain, U.S. Navy photo)

Oscar-nominee Bruce Beresford will direct a $100 million Chinese co-production about an American air raid on Tokyo in 1942, after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into World War II, the project’s producer said in Beijing on Thursday.

Plans for The Doolittle Raid—the second film on the revenge aerial bombing announced in recent months—were unveiled by American producer Tony Scotti at a news conference at the Beijing International Film Festival.

Co-productions, once touted as the most effective way for the Hollywood and China to work together, have been slow to navigate the red tape of China’s growing industry, with few getting final state approval to shoot.

But historical epics featuring the U.S. and China fighting side by side against a common enemy, the Japanese, appear to be in favor at a time when relations between Washington and Beijing are being tried in diplomatic, trade, and human rights circles.

The film will be Australia-born Beresford’s second foray into Chinese territory. In 2009, he directed Mao’s Last Dancer, about famed ballet dancing defector to the United States. In 1989, Driving Miss Daisy, which he directed, won the Best Picture Oscar and three others. A video of Beresford acknowledging his involvement in the project was shown at the conference.

A co-production between the state-controlled Central Newsreels and Documentary Film Studio in Beijing and Los Angeles and Paris-based Global Media Management Film Group, Beresford’s version of the story of the U.S. Army Air Corps Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle, will focus on the aftermath of the daring April 18, 1942 bombing raid he led on the Japanese capital that resulted in 65 of the 80 airmen under his command crashing in or bailing out over China.

The American airmen were helped to safety by the Chinese people, who then suffered a quarter of a million deaths in subsequent Japanese reprisals, according to representatives from the Central Newsreels and Documentary Film Studio.

“You’ve all heard and learned the price that the Chinese paid for saving those Americans,” Scotti said at a press conference in Beijing. “I used to like the Japanese, but after learning all of that, I didn’t like them so much anymore.” Scotti’s remarks drew applause from the festival audience.

Plans for another movie based on the Doolittle story called In The Times Of Locusts was announced in late February as part of a $500 million slate of Chinese film and TV projects from New York- and Shanghai-based hedge fund Han Capital Management.

And in early April, Los Angeles-based Skydance and Alibaba Pictures said they were teaming up to shoot The Flying Tigers, a film about the American Volunteer Group that aided the Chinese Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek against the Japanese during WWII.

Scotti told China Film Insider he got the idea for the Doolittle film, which will feature special effects by John Hughes of Tau Films, when he saw a photo of the man while visiting a war museum in Beijing.

“President Xi went to the war museum and they showed him the same picture and told him my story and he said, ‘That’s a movie that should be made,’ Scotti said, adding: “That’s what I was told.”

Scotti said he hoped the film, which will be a dramatization of historical fact, would not focus on the brutality of the Japanese. “This is not a story about brutality,” he said. ”It’s a story about courage and about people.”

Scotti said advisors from the Central Newsreels and Documentary Film Studio worked with the screenwriters on the script.  Among that studios credits are the 2011 propaganda film Beginning of the Great Revival about the events that led to the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.

“After they read the screenplay they tutored them on what we can and can’t say” Scotti told CFI. “And basically there was very little that we couldn’t say in this movie.”

According to Scotti, the film features scenes with of Soong Mei-ling, the wife of the Nationalist leader Chiang who fled to the island of Taiwan to set up their own government when the Communists rose to power in China in 1949. “She refers to the General as Generalissimo—we don’t show him, but it does refer to him.”