Screenwriter and author John Fusco spent the last few years going back in time. His current project, tracing the exploration of Marco Polo, is Netflix’s latest pocket-emptying gamble. Writing a series about the great Venetian explorer isn’t Fusco’s only noteworthy history lesson. He’s penning the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 15 years after the martial arts epic surprised the world as a critical and box office mammoth.
For Fusco, whose works include Young Guns and Young Guns II and Hidalgo, the barriers to entry on a Crouching Tiger sequel go beyond simply living up to its Oscar-winning predecessor.
For starters, Fusco needed a friend to translate the source material. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was based on the fourth book in the Crane-Iron Pentalogy by Wang Du Lu. The sequel, which is titled Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend, borrows from the fifth installment of Du Lu’s series, Silver Vase, Iron Knight.
With a translated book and a screenplay, Fusco and Harvey Weinstein found a logical partner in Netflix, considering the trio–with Weinstein’s production company–is behind Marco Polo. Before anything was signed, Fusco had his reservations.
“I said [to Weinstein] ‘if we can keep this DNA pure and get Michelle [Yeoh] back and as long as we’re respectful, this story goes on,’” Fusco told Den of Geek at the Marco Polo press day. “[Silver Vase, Iron Knight] introduces a new generation of sword heroes and star-crossed lovers. It’s how do we tee that up in a respectful way.”
They were able to secure their leading lady, as Michelle Yeoh is returning to reprise her role. Another important piece for Fusco, a passionate fan of martial arts since his youth, was getting the right person to helm the film. With the original director, Ang Lee, out of the fold, they targeted legendary Chinese director and choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping.
“The other component was going to Master Wo-Ping, who created the martial arts vernacular of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” Fusco said. “His early films inspired Ang Lee to do Crouching Tiger. He’s the father of this genre in a lot of ways.”
With the major players lined up, Netflix and the Weinstein Company sought a deal with IMAX. As a result, the film will stream on Netflix on August 28, 2015 and will release in IMAX on the same day.
The groundbreaking agreement has created unease and tension in the industry as Netflix’s model continues to challenge the traditional distribution process. Already, Regal Cinemas and Cinemark are among other theaters that have chosen to boycott the IMAX version of the film. IMAX and Netflix have held their ground thus far, defending the decision to seek alternate methods of distribution.
As with reviving any successful film for a second go-around after so many years, the project has faced its share of skepticism and backlash. Fusco knows what the original means to the genre and he’s not taking the responsibility lightly.
“In terms of topping it, it’s an amazing, amazing original,” Fusco said. “I feel honored and privileged to write a sequel.”
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