Tsui Hark will direct and Andy Lau will star in the period martial arts suspense thriller Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame for production company Huayi Brothers.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Tsui and Huayi will bring to life an imagined case solved by a real Tang Dynasty detective. The film has a $13 million budget, and was scripted by Chen Kuofu, Tsui's wife and partner Nansun Shi and former Columbia and Emperor executive Peggy Lee.
When the mysterious deaths of a series of loyal subjects threaten to delay the 690 A.D. inauguration of Empress Wu, China's only female leader, she calls the infamous Detective Dee (Lau) back from an exile into which she cast him eight years earlier.
"They had such an interesting relationship of hatred, love and passion," said Tsui, who is focused on finding the perfect empress to play opposite Lau (Infernal Affairs). "She was the sole one, the first and last empress in China, who claimed to be very iron-fisted, using all these cruel methods in handling her politics. At the same time she was very smart, using all the intelligent people she selected for her cabinet."
Dee accepts the challenge and partners with gung-ho Commander Bei and the Ghost Doctor, a master of disguise, to solve the crimes. Tsui has not yet chosen actors to play the rest of the historical figures who will follow him on his shoot from Hong Kong and Beijing to Hangzhou and Henan.
After years of planning and scheduling delays around the Beijing Olympics, Huayi got a shooting permit from the Film Bureau in October. The company hopes to finish the film in time for a summer 2010 release in Asia.
Felice Bee, head of international sales, said Huayi and Tsui chose to call Lau's character a detective, rather than a judge -- a title closer to the historical record -- to avoid confusion with a popular series of Judge Dee books based on Tang Dynasty court sleuth Di Renjie by Dutch diplomat and novelist Robert van Gulik.
"We want this movie to be fun, not to give people too much of a history lesson," Bee said.
The film starts production in Hong Kong and China in May.