As the historical 13th century voyage of Marco Polo stands as a symbol of the West’s relationship to China, it seems fitting that an upcoming feature film about the explorer, long gestating from “The Fall” director Tarsem Singh, will provide opportunities for both cultures to partner up on the project.
Screen Daily reports Chinese actress Gong Li, previously seen State-side in “Miami Vice” and “Memoirs of a Geisha” will star in the pic as a Mongolian empress. Li is of course a superstar in her native lands, but she personally hopes the film, an American/Chinese collaboration between Endgame Entertainment, will promote a more expansive film landscape. “So far the collaboration between China and the US has mainly involved Chinese actors going to work abroad,” Li said, “so it’s a great thing to have a Chinese story shoot in China with both Chinese and foreign actors.” Such joint ventures have slowly grown in prominence as of late, with projects such as Rian Johnson‘s “Looper” and “Iron Man 3” securing financing with Chinese film companies in exchange for on-location work.
Li is the first major talent to come on-board the project, as the role of Marco Polo hasn’t even been cast yet, but still the actress is confident in Tarsem’s abilities, saying he’s the kind of “audacious filmmaker you need to make a film about Marco Polo.” Audacious is probably the most fitting way to describe the director, but after his misguided foray into slapstick and family fare with “Mirror, Mirror,” he looks destined to remain a superb visual stylist with little flair for actual compelling characters. This writer thinks “The Fall” remains his crowning achievement thus far, with a much-vaunted, natural performance by Catinca Untaru and a fantastic narrative to boot, but he needs a strong script to rein him in from his flourishes if any future films are to succeed.
At any rate, an actress on the level of Gong Li is sure to help matters along, so time will tell if Tarsem can get his act together when the film lenses in inner Mongolia later this year.