'Crouching Tiger' set to follow in the tracks of 'The Lion King'

Andrew Gumbel
Saturday 11 March 2006 01:00

The showbiz brothers newly relieved of their original production company, Miramax, are planning a grand planetary roll-out of a stage musical version of the film, with what they say will combine the soaring tunes of a Broadway showstopper with the acrobatics of the Cirque du Soleil.

Then, if it turns into the monster smash they are clearly anticipating, they have options on four more books from the same series that spawned Crouching Tiger in the first place.

If the market can stand it, we could be looking at three prequels and a sequel, all of them exploring the same Qing dynasty world that forms the backdrop to Wang Du Lu's Crane - Iron Pentalogy.

In short, we won't just be talking about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. We'll be treated to Precious Sword, Golden Hairpin and Iron Knight, Silver Vase as well.

Harvey Weinstein, the extrovert of the two brothers, told the trade newspaper Variety yesterday: "There is a whole world of material in all of these books that can be explored in a series of great films, much like the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Theatre audiences should have high expectations for the spectacle that this extraordinary material can bring to the stage, and I think this is an opportunity to create something revolutionary."

That may be a florid way to express a few home truths about the current state of the entertainment business.

At a time when many of the tried-and-tested formulas for success have stopped working - nobody is rushing to action blockbusters any more, and expensive sentimental Hollywood studio production are no longer competitive in the race for the Oscars - turning hit movies into stage musicals has become something of a cottage industry.

The Lion King, perhaps the closest analogy to the Crouching Tiger project, was of course a huge success on musical stages around the world.

In its wake we've seen John Waters' Hairspray turned into a musical - and, coming to a screen near you soon, turned back into a film of the musical.

We've seen Billy Elliot the musical, Mel Brooks's The Producers transplanted from screen to stage and back to screen again, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail turned into the Broadway smash Spamalot.

The Weinsteins have not previously been noted as theatrical impresarios, although they were involved in The Producers and a handful of other projects.

Miramax started life as a refreshingly vibrant producer of low-budget independent film before coming under the Disney corporate umbrella and growing ever more lavish in its aspirations - culminating in Martin Scorsese's pair of budget-busting productions, Gangs of New York and The Aviator.

Miramax is now wholly owned by Disney and the Weinsteins have set up their own new company, ostensibly to get back to their film-making roots.

It turns out that Harvey Weinstein hasn't stopped kicking himself for failing to pick up the Ang Lee movie - a failure he says was due to an ill-timed admission to hospital in 2000.

As a result, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ended up under the Sony Picture Classics banner and made more money at the US box office than any foreign-language film before or since.

The deal to acquire rights to the stage show and the rest of the books in the series was put together in China, where the Weinsteins are interested in launching a general expansion. "We are now being united to what we should have been doing years ago," Weinstein told Variety. "I am surprised that no one would do another [sequel], and I always thought there would be an opportunity."

Adapting the rest of the series may prove a little problematic, since Ang Lee and his fellow screenwriters cherry-picked ideas and plot strands from all of them when they made Crouching Tiger.

That, though, is a detail that can be sorted out later. The fact that Lee's latest film, Brokeback Mountain, was one of the most talked about of the past year and earned its director the first Oscar to be bestowed on an Asian certainly won't do the Weinsteins' aspirations any harm.

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