OK, that title is actually misleading since it’s obviously intended to suggest that the Weinstein Co. period drama Shanghai, starring a locked Gong Li and in talks John Cusack, is glossing off the non-success of Ang Lee’s recent wartime period flick. And for audiences it will seem that way, since Cusack would be an American returning to Japanese-occupied Shanghai to discover the death of a friend. It goes without saying that he falls in love (probably with Gong Li, if he hasn’t traveled forward in time to see Hannibal Rising) and discovers some conspiratorial bullshit.
But Shanghai has actually been kicking around for years, as a pet project of Mike Medavoy. The Orion Pictures founder and current president of Phoenix Pictures was born in Shanghai, and has wanted to make the film since at least 1998. He’s had Hossein Amini’s script since then, making noise in his special desk drawer. There was a point where Harvey Weinstein had it tagged as John Madden and Miramax’s follow-up to Shakespeare In Love. That died; Mike Newell was attached in 1999; then the Madden deal resurfaced before falling apart again.
Interesting note: after being attached, John Madden made Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and Newell made Mona Lisa Smile. What sort of poison is in this script?*
Now the man in the director’s chair is Mikael Hafstrom, the guy who helmed 1408. That explains Cusack, but it doesn’t suggest sweeping love story, which is how Medavoy described the film back in 1999: "If you could imagine David Lean doing a thriller with a love story at its core, that’s what this has the potential to be."
* At least there’s this consolation: the failed deal with Madden may have eventually united him with Hossein Amini, and the two came up with Killshot this year, which everyone seems to think is super-keen.