There are an awful lot of ifs, maybes and “in talks” still attached to this story, so don’t get too excited (or bewildered) just yet, but it’s certainly the least expected pre-production news of the day: veteran Chinese director Zhang Yimou is in the frame to direct his first Hollywood studio feature, “Quasimodo” — obviously enough, a take on the oft-filmed Victor Hugo chestnut “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
The film is set to star Josh Brolin, whose rugged everyman quality makes him a somewhat counterintuitive choice to play the hideously deformed, socially isolated church bell-ringer, though that could work in his favor — either way, expect prosthetics galore. It’s a project that has been on the Warner Bros. books, with Brolin attached, for two years now: Tim Burton was mooted to direct at one point, though that has obviously fallen through.
The potential appointment of Zhang isn’t as surprising as it would have been a few years ago, before his previous film, the Christian Bale-starring historical epic “The Flowers of War” — China’s Oscar submission in 2011 — announced his designs on crossover fare. But this would be his first film both set and shot outside his homeland, making him something of a wild-card choice for the project.
Zhang’s compatriot and contemporary Chen Kaige floundered when he hit Hollywood to make the infamously abysmal erotic thriller “Killing Me Softly,” though one would hope “Quasimodo” represents a slightly more comfortable match of director and material. The cultural context may be new for him, but Zhang has form in the area of sweeping, romantic period adventures: “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” shot in the style of 2002’s “Hero” (the martial-arts spectacular that was the most recent of Zhang’s three Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominees) could be pretty nifty.
The director’s output since 2004’s acclaimed “House of Flying Daggers,” up to and including the glossy but turgid “Flowers of War,” hasn’t really been up to par, so a change of scenery might reinvigorate him a bit. Whether it works out or not, he’s a more inspired choice than Burton — now let’s see if it actually happens. Things will have to go very right, however, for “Quasimodo” to feature in a future edition of the list below.