It has been a while since we’ve heard anything from “Traffic” writer and “Syriana” writer/director Stephen Gaghan. Ever since his sophomore film, Gaghan was attached to a few projects that never quite got moving. He was set to adapt Malcolm Gladwell‘s nonfiction bestseller “Blink” for Leonardo DiCaprio‘s Appian Way shingle but that seems to have stalled out; he wrote a “Speed“-like thriller called “Dead Spy Running” that McG was eyeing to direct and he also had an untitled action pic set up over at Lionsgate. Late this summer, he signed up to adapt a popular series of books by a Swedish criminologist, psychological profiler and author G.W. Perrson and he’s also completed work on a pilot for NBC. But he’s still angling to get back behind the camera and he’s making sure he’s got options, setting up two brand new projects.
The first is an adaptation of “The Snakehead: An Epic Tale Of The Chinatown Underworld And The American Dream” by New Yorker writer Patrick Keefe. The narrative book, backed by real deal facts and characters, centers on a middle-aged grandmother known as Sister Ping, whose noodle store on Hester Street in New York City was front to an elaborate operation that included an underground bank for illegal immigrants and some human smuggling to go along with it. She ran the “business” for years until a shipload of undocumented immigrants went ashore in Queens, leading the FBI on a manhunt to find out who was behind it all. The project is set up at the indie Flashlight Pictures where Keefe will write the script; check out the Amazon synopsis below:
Keefe (Chatter) examines America’s complicated relationship with immigration in this brilliant account of Cheng Chui Ping, known as Sister Ping, who built a multimillion-dollar empire as a snakehead, smuggling Chinese immigrants into America. Sister Ping herself entered the U.S. legally in 1981 from China’s Fuzhou province, but was soon known among Fujianese immigrants in Manhattan’s Chinatown as the go-to for advice, loans and connections to bring their families to America. Her empire grew so large that she contracted out muscle work to the local gang, the Fuk Ching. Keefe points to the Golden Venture—a ship full of Fujianese illegals that ran fatally aground in 1993—as the beginning of the end for Sister Ping. She was sentenced in 2000 to 35 years in prison for conspiracy, money laundering and trafficking. Despite an enormous cast of characters in a huge underground web of global crime, Keefe’s account maintains the swift pace of a thriller.
Meanwhile, over at Warner Bros., Gaghan has another hot button issue movie set up. Based on a series of investigative reports by Richard Marosi for the Los Angeles Times (read them here), this untitled movie will center on drug cartels, tracking a wiretap operation that cracked an elaborate smuggling operation that found cocaine being distributed into the country in hidden compartments, with frozen food and more. The studio wants something on the scale of “The Departed” or “Traffic” (which Gaghan also penned).
Frankly, both pictures sound comfortably in Gaghan’s wheelhouse of expansive, topical movies that hit that sweet spot of being some adult fare with mainstream appeal. So we’ll be watching to see how these come together. But between the two pics, the untitled drug pic is first in line, but no word yet on when it might get in front of cameras.