Feb 14, 2014

Tradecraft: Zhang Yimou to Direct Robert Ludlum's The Parsifal Mosaic for Producer Ron Howard

Wow! Just... wow. This is incredibly exciting news. Deadline reports that not only is the long dormant Robert Ludlum adaptation The Parsifal Mosaic once again happening, but acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou  (Raise the Red Lantern) is now at the helm in his Hollywood debut. Ron Howard, who was previously attached to direct back in 2009, will produce the film along with his Imagine Entertainment partner Brian Grazer and Captivate Entertainment's Jeffrey Weiner and Ben Smith. (In 2008, producer Frank Marshall and writer George Nolfi briefly considered adapting The Parsifal Mosaic into the basis for the next Bourne movie. That didn't happen.) Zhang's Raise the Red Lantern was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1991. In the last decade, he's demonstrated his action acumen with historical martial arts epics like Hero and House of Flying Daggers. He's taken surprising detours before, like remaking the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple as A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop in 2009. But I don't think anyone expected him to sign onto a Robert Ludlum movie in Hollywood! It's unexpected... but I think the results could potentially be amazing. I can't wait to see! The trade adds that this is the first time a mainland Chinese director has ever signed to make an English language film with an American studio. David Self (Road to Perdition, Thirteen Days) penned the most recent draft of the script for Howard, but it will now undergo another rewrite with Zhang's input.

Ludlum's 1982 novel, considered by many to be one of his best, centers on an Michael Havelok, an American spy drawn out of a voluntary retirement when he sees Jena Karas, the woman he had loved and long believed dead, very much alive. But that's not necessarily a good thing when she was an enemy agent, and he was the reluctant engineer of her death! What follows is the most interesting romance Ludlum ever concocted, a truly twisted tale of myriad betrayals both personal and political. Boy meets girl, girl betrays boy, boy has girl killed, girl comes back to life, girl tries to kill boy... it's the ultimate post-break-up story, perfect for Valentine's Day! How do you tell the ex- you thought you'd killed how badly you want her back? Ludlum's tale was set against a Cold War backdrop and made excellent use of the author's regular European stomping grounds. With Zhang's involvement, I can't help but speculate (without any legitimate grounds to do so) if the updated version might be relocated to the Far East with the Jena character changed from a Russian agent to a Chinese agent? Doubtless Universal wouldn't want to risk alienating the massive Chinese audience by vilifying the Chinese government (and nor would China allow Zhang to direct such a movie), but it's no spoiler to reveal that the true villains of Ludlum's book were not acting on behalf of any government, but fanatical elements within the U.S. and Soviet elite. That scenario would work. To expand this pure speculation to its logical next step, it occurs to me that the actress Zhang Ziyi, who starred in Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers and Hero, would make an excellent Chinese Jena...

Read my review of Ludlum's The Parsifal Mosaic here.


teeritz said...

This sounds very promising indeed. I'm actually surprised that more of Ludlum's work hasn't been translated to the screen since the first Bourne film...in 2002.
It would be nice to see a renaissance in European-set spy films. It's been a long time since something like "Ronin", for example.

Tanner said...

Yeah, me too! He left behind a big enough catalog that I wish we were getting a Ludlum movie a year. But it's not for want of trying on the part of Captivate, who control that library. They have a number of Ludlum movies in various stages of development. One of the most promising was The Matarese Circle, which was set up back in 2007 (I think) with another very interesting director attachment: David Cronenberg directing Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington. But then when MGM went bankrupt, that project fell apart like so many. And unlike some, it hasn't come back together, sadly. The Chancellor Manuscript (which I think might be Ludlum's best) has also been in development for a long time with Martin Scorsese and Marc Forster attached at various times.

And despite my speculation about resetting Parsifal in the Far East, I'd certainly prefer if they didn't! Like you, I have a special fondness for European-set spy films, and Ludlum's library is certainly rich in those. I hope we see more!

(Of course with the Bourne Supremacy the filmmakers did the opposite, and reset Ludlum's novel from the Far East [including mainland China] to Europe.)