Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Jan De Bont returns, will direct live-action Mulan with Zhang Ziyi.

Good news for those nostalgic for 1990s action. After a seven year absence, action icon Jan De Bont is returning to the director's chair. He has signed to helm an English-language, live-action version of the Chinese myth Mulan. Independently financed, the alleged $100 million-budgeted project will star Zhang Ziyi as the icon made popular to US audiences by the 1998 Disney animated musical. It's a pleasant return of someone who really had it all for a few years.

For a few years, Jan De Bont was kind of the action hill. After years as a director of photography for any number of popular genre pictures (Cujo, Die Hard, Basic Instinct, Lethal Weapon 3), De Bont took his shot as head-cheese in 1994. He knocked it out of the park with Speed, which still holds up as one of the better action pictures of the last twenty years. Aside from receiving rave reviews and grossing $350 million worldwide on a $30 million budget, it reinvented Keanu Reeves as an action hero, gave Dennis Hopper another decade of screen life, and turned Sandra Bullock from 'the funny hot one in Demolition Man' to a full-blown star. He followed it up two years later with Twister, which scored the fifth-biggest opening weekend ever at that time ($41 million) and ended up with a whopping $241 million in the US and $494 million worldwide (at a time when its $92 million budget was one of the highest of all-time). Aside from being a rock-solid B-movie thrill-ride, the film gave early exposure to a surprising number of up-and-comers, including Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Alexa Vega, and Jeremy Davies.

Alas, misfortune soon followed, as he followed up his twin knockouts with a trio of whiffs. Speed 2: Cruise Control received horrible reviews (it really is terrible, even thirteen years later) and grossed just $164 million worldwide (just $48 million of that domestic) on a near-record $160 million budget. Ironically, Sandra Bullock only agreed to star in the sequel so that Fox would finance her pet project, Hope Floats. Speed 2 came out first, which nearly killed her career, but then Hope Floats was a hit based purely on her name just a year later, which saved her career. Also worth noting, Movieline used to have a feature called the 100 smartest and the 100 dumbest things Hollywood's done lately. Before Speed 2 was released, Movieline called Keanu Reeves one of the dumbest people in Tinseltown for passing on Speed 2 to play with his rockband Dogstar. One year later, Movieline called Reeves THE smartest person in Hollywood for passing on the picture. Anyway, the film was a massive whiff and forever killed any chance that replacement star Jason Patric had as a mainstream movie star.

The bloated haunted house picture The Haunting came out in summer of 1999, opened to $33 million and grossed $177 million worldwide on an $80 million budget. Had the film not been so lousy, the stench of Speed 2 might have worn off. His final picture came in 2003, as he attempted a comeback by helming the sequel Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life. If you've read this site long enough, you know how I feel about this one. It was a massive artistic improvement over the god-awful Tomb Raider, full of real old-school action and adventure with real stuntmen and practical effects work. Alas, while the first Tomb Raider was a template quick-kill blockbuster ($131 million off of a $47 million opening), absolutely no one liked it, so this superior sequel never stood a chance, grossing just over half its predecessor's domestic take (it did $156 million worldwide on a $95 million budget). This of course gave rise to what I call the 'Tomb Raider trap', which states that if the original is lousy but makes money due to marketing and hype, the sequel will gross far less even if it's better, since audiences won't be willing to chance it again (Prince Caspian, Angels & Demons, etc).

So now, seven years after a lightning-fast rise and fall, De Bont is back in the action saddle. This is also Ziyi Zhang's first live-action theatrical English-language role since Memoirs of a Geisha in 2005, although she contributed vocals to the 2007 TMNT cartoon (she also had supporting roles in Rush Hour 2 and the straight-to-DVD thriller Horsemen). Of course, she followed up Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon with any number of projects in her native tongue, including Hero and House of Flying Daggers (the latter is, frankly, a better film than Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon). I'm not sure if the world needs a live-action version of Mulan, although if it's more accurate to the original myth, then why not? I'm just happy too see Jan De Bont back where he belongs.

Scott Mendelson


Frankly, My Dear said...

You managed to give a lot of interesting information in a small number of words. I really liked this piece.

Anton said...

Good post. I really hope Jan De Bont get back to action soon. I've been waiting for his next film for quite a while. My favorites are Speed and Twister of course.


Related Posts with Thumbnails