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Zhang Yimou’s ‘The Flowers of War’ Goes to Wrekin Hill

Written by on November 7, 2011 

After months of speculation that went hand-in-hand with talk of Oscars, the U.S. distribution contest for Zhang Yimou‘s The Flowers of War has ended a tad anticlimacticly. A press release announces that Wrekin Hill — the company recently behind Hesher, The People vs. George Lucas, and The Way Back — have picked up the Christian Bale starrer for an opening later this year. With Row 1, they’ll release it in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco “in late December 2011,” rolling it out to other markets at the start of next year.

Awards hope isn’t completely dissipated by this news — but it could very well be hurt. Wrekin Hill is a very small distributor who couldn’t find the proper method to support Peter Weir‘s The Way Back, a film that could have easily earned a nomination for something more technical — cinematography, perhaps — so long as it had the proper backing. But, this was China’s selection for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, and while I don’t have the deepest knowledge of how these things work, a good film might have a better chance in this category than a well-financed one in other departments. TOH points out that producer Zhang Weiping is aiming for both an “aggressive release strategy” and “effective awards campaign.” It would be weird for him to sacrifice that simply for an American opening.

I don’t care all that much about awards, however; what I care about are quality films. This brings in another issue with Hill’s acquirement: If other studios decided not to pick it up, is this thing any good? The presence of Bale and approximately 40% of the dialogue being in English should be some kind of motivator for domestic purchases. (Inglourious Basterds starred Brad Pitt, and about half of its dialogue was in a foreign language. Universal scored many Oscar nominations — including Best Director & Picture — with it.) If the movie’s a failure, there would obviously be some hesitation over putting it out there.

Speculating any further might not bring about many results, but I find myself fascinated that this whole thing came down to such a small group. We should know how this pays off in about a month and a half, and, for one reason or another, I’m much more curious about a reaction now.

Read the full press release below:

Chris Ball, President and CEO of LA-based film production and distribution company Wrekin Hill Entertainment, announced today that his company, in association with Row 1 Productions, have acquired the North American distribution rights to award-winning Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s (Raise the Red Lantern, Hero) and producer Zhang Weiping’s THE FLOWERS OF WAR starring Academy Award® winning actor Christian Bale (The Fighter, The Dark Knight).  The film has been selected as this year’s official foreign language entry for China at the Academy Awards.  Wrekin Hill, in association with Row 1, will open the film in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco in late December 2011 and the film will then expand through early 2012.

THE FLOWERS OF WAR will have a wide release in China on December 16th following three premiere events in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Chris Ball, President and CEO of Wrekin Hill said, “THE FLOWERS OF WAR just blew me away.  Not only is it incredibly powerful but the artistry is absolutely sensational. We are really excited to be bringing this wonderful film to North American audiences.  It follows in the tradition of some of the classic films we have had the privilege of releasing over the past decade.  I am also thrilled that Row 1 shares our passion for thefilm.”

Producer Zhang Weiping said: “We were very impressed by the passion that Wrekin Hill and Row 1 showed for the film.  Their aggressive release strategy coupled with their desire to focus on an effective awards campaign for THE FLOWERS OF WAR immediately captured our attention. We are thrilled to be in their very capable hands and in bringing this powerful and emotionally engaging film to North American audiences.”

Based on a screenplay by Heng Liu (The Story of Qiu Ju), THE FLOWERS OF WAR is adapted from Geling Yan’s historical novel 13 Flowers of Nanjing. The film is a work of historical fiction set against the backdrop of the Rape of Nanking, a brutal chapter in the Sino-Japanese War, which was a significant event in Chinese history. Produced and fully financed by Zhang Weiping under his New Pictures Film banner, THE FLOWERS OF WAR is inspired by true life events, and tells a genuine story of hope, love and sacrifice.

Set in 1937, Nanking stands at the forefront of a war between China and Japan. As the invading Japanese Imperial Army overruns China’s capital city, desperate civilians seek refuge behind the nominally protective walls of a western cathedral.  Here, John Miller (Bale), an American trapped amidst the chaos of battle, and theensuing occupation, takes shelter, joined by a group of innocent schoolgirlsand thirteen courtesans, equally determined to escape the horrors taking place outside the church walls.

THE FLOWERS OF WAR is executive produced by David Linde, Chaoying Deng, and Bill Kong. International Sales are handled by Glen Basner and FilmNation Entertainment.  The deal was negotiated by executive producers Linde and Deng along with attorney Stephen Saltzman of Loeb & Loeb on behalf of the filmmaker, Zhang Weiping, by Chris Ball and Rene Cogan on behalf of Wrekin Hill and Brandt Andersen on behalf of Row 1.
About Wrekin Hill Entertainment

WREKIN HILL ENTERTAINMENT is a Los Angeles-based production and distribution company, founded by the former Newmarket Films team of Chris Ball and Rene Cogan. Ball and Cogan built a reputation at Newmarket for producing and distributing such indie classics as MEMENTO, DONNIE DARKO, WHALE RIDER, MONSTER, and THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST.  Wrekin Hill has a multi-year US home entertainment distribution deal with Lionsgate, and a three-year multi-platform output deal with Canadian distributor eOne. The company aims to distribute four to five quality theatrical releases each year , in addition to its ancillary driven output,with a focus on the same kind of director-driven specialty films on which the team has built its reputation. During 2011, Wrekin Hill has theatrically released such films as Peter Weir’s THE WAY BACK, and Spencer Susser’s HESHER starring Joseph Gordon Levitt and Natalie Portman.

About Row 1 Productions

Row 1 Productions was founded by a group of private investors including world-renowned OrthopedicSurgeon Dr. Rick Lehman. In addition to his prestigious medical practice, Lehman also has several holdings which include entertainment, medicine and an ownership stake in the NHL’s Florida Panthers.  Row 1 Production’s investments include domestic rights acquisition and early stage bridge financing for production.  Row 1 has provided financing this year for Stephen Frear’s LAY THE FAVORITE, FROZEN GROUND starring Nicholas Cage, and BROKEN CITY starring Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe.  Row 1 Productions is headquartered in Beverly Hills, California.

Does Wrekin Hill’s acquisition leave you uneasy about the future of The Flowers of War?

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