by Christopher Campbell
No, Robert DeNiro will not be playing the Communist leader in a biopic. That would be ridiculous. Instead he will be co-producing a film set in China during the time Mao Zedong came to power. He and his Tribeca Productions partner, Jane Rosenthal, are teaming up with Universal for an adaptation of Roy Rowan’s memoir Chasing the Dragon: A Veteran Journalist’s Firsthand Account of the 1949 Chinese Revolution. I’m sure the title says exactly what the memoir is and what the movie will be about, but I will clarify the details that Variety gives us:
Rowan went to China as a worker for United Nations Relief, but he quit that job in order to be a correspondent for Time and Life. He was accompanied by photographer Jack Birns as he covered the rise of Mao and the Communist Party. And fortunately for Universal and for most moviegoers, there’s some romance and intrigue involved in the story: Rowan fell in love with a Chinese interpreter who may have been a spy.
That last part makes me think of my least favorite part of DeNiro/Tribeca’s The Good Shepherd, but I think that has more to do with actor Eddie Redmayne (or DeNiro’s direction of him) than with the story. I doubt DeNiro will be the director of Chasing the Dragon (or whatever they title it), and I wonder if he will even have a role in it. Aside from Rowan and Birns, who I think were both too young, I’m not sure there will be any other appropriate characters. Perhaps he can play someone at the Shanghai Time and Life bureau? Or if the film takes us to America at all, editor-in-chief Henry Luce? It should be fine if DeNiro can’t be in it. He’s not in every film Tribeca produces; it just seems that way.
The epic script is being written by the relatively novice team of John Marans and Yuri Sivo, based on their pitch. For people looking for a good Mao biopic, this will probably not be it, but we can all hope Jung Chang’s Mao: The Unknown Story gets optioned someday. According to Publisher’s Weekly, Rowan’s book is primarily about the making of his career. So, if you’re tired of movies about foreign cultures presented as filtered through a white character (The Last Samurai; The Last King of Scotland), this might not be a movie for you.