Zhang Yimou's next hero - Hanks, Cruise or Pitt?

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Zhang Yimou

Zhang Yimou [sina.com]

As the latest project of Chinese director Zhang Yimou, "A Simple Noodle Story," is set to be released this weekend, his new film about the Nanjing massacre has also started casting.

The historical epic entitled "Jinling Shangsan Chai," literally "The Thirteen Women of Jinling," is expected to begin filming in October 2010, Zhang Weiping, producer and long-time partner of the director, has confirmed.

It will be the highest-budget production of Yimou, "possibly exceeding 100 million U.S. dollars", the producer revealed.

"We started contacting Hollywood A-list actors at the beginning of this year. Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt all showed an interest. But the final decision will depend on their schedules," he said.

The identity of this foreign role is yet to be determined. "Maybe it will be that of a Pastor."

As for the numerous female roles in the film, newcomer actresses who have good foreign language skills will get their chance.

Based on a novella of Chinese-American author Yan Geling, the story is set in a church in Nanjing, then the Chinese capital, during the Japanese invasion of China in 1937. Thirteen prostitutes broke into the church in seek of shelter from the war, while several Chinese soldiers who survived a battle with the Japanese invaders also came in, bringing troubles to church workers and a group of boarding school girls.

"The film focuses on human nature," commented Zhang Weiping, "we put the story in the background of World War II to display the Chinese struggle and distaste for war and to show our national spirit."

"It will be a 'Schindler's List'-like epic movie."

Zhang also said the itinerary has not been finalized on "Shan Zha Shu Zhi Lian" ("Romance under a Hawthorn Tree"), the other announced yet-to-come project of Yimou.

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