EXCLUSIVE: Hong Kong-based producer Tsui Hark has boarded the ship as partner and co-producer of the Chinese pirate epic Shih, Queen of the Sea. Hark will partner with Anthony McCarten, Dakota Group and Facing East.
McCarten, whose biopic scripts range from Bohemian Rhapsody to The Theory of Everything, The Two Popes, Darkest Hour and numerous others, has here written the script about Shih Yang, aka Cheng I Sao, who dominated the South China Sea during the Qing Dynasty. Born into poverty, she worked on a “flower boat” brothel where she met the notorious pirate leader Cheng Yi, joining him at sea. Upon his death in 1807, she assumed full command of the fearsome Red Flag Fleet, commanding over 1,800 pirate ships and an estimated 80,000 pirates. By comparison, Blackbeard commanded four ships and 300 pirates within the same century. Shih instigated sweeping reforms to the rules of piracy, ordering execution for rape or marital infidelity and insisting on equality between the sexes. Much of what is known in the West about her is due to the writings of an English diarist, Richard Glasspoole, who was captured by her and later formed a strong bond with her.
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Widely viewed as a major figure in the Golden Age of Hong Kong cinema, Tsui Hark has directed such Chinese language films such as Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain (1983), Shanghai Blues (1984), the Once Upon A Time In China film series(1991 – 1997), The Taking of Tiger Mountain (2014) and Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back (2017). In 2021 he produced and co-directed with Chen Kaige and Dante Lam the $200 million war epic The Battle of Lake Changjin. That film grossed $913 million, making it the second highest grossing film of 2021 and the highest grossing Chinese film of all time. He then directed and produced Water Gate Bridge (2022), the film grossed $556 million, making it the highest grossing film in 2022.
“I couldn’t be more excited to tackle the vastly cinematic and almost unbelievable story of Shih Yang, who, as Anthony superbly tells it, and as history confirms, rose from being a poor worker on a Canton floating brothel to command a vast pirate fleet who could not be defeated by the combined colonial powers of the British, Dutch and Portuguese or by the naval force of the Qing Dynasty,” Hark said.
Markus Barmettler and Philip Lee will produce for Facing East, alongside McCarten’s Muse of Fire Productions, Stanley Buchthal’s Dakota Group and Tsui Hark and Nansun Shi’s Film Workshop. Set to handle visual effects is UK-based Double Negative, the 7-time Oscar winning leading visual effects and animation studio.
Principal photography is planned to commence in Summer 2024 on locations in China and Malaysia. Cast is being firmed.
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