John McTiernan is attached to direct a $45m action adventure Murder In Canton, based on the Judge Dee mystery novel, which Samuel and Victor Hadida's Davis Films and Peter Loehr's Ming Productions will co-produce with backing from TF1.

French production house D+ Productions, headed by Francoise DeDeu, will also produce. TF1 International is co-financing and will handle international sales. CAA's John Patak is helping to package the film. The Hadida brothers will distribute in France through their Metropolitan Filmexport.

"This project has a bit of everything," said Hadida. "The basic story is a murder mystery but with adventure, fantasy, romance and martial arts."

Production is scheduled to start by the end of the year in New Zealand and China. The character of Judge Dee will be played by a Chinese actor with a Westerner as his sidekick.

The Judge Dee novels, written by the Dutch Ambassador to Japan in the 1950s Robert Van Gulik, follow the exploits of a Tang Dynasty magistrate who travelled throughout China solving mysteries at the Empress' behest. Davis, D+ and Ming own rights to the entire series of more than 20 novels which they plan to turn into a major franchise.

The film is one of the first productions to emerge from Loehr's new production outfit Ming Productions, based in LA and Beijing. The American-born producer previously headed Beijing-based Imar Films, where he oversaw a string of low-budget successes, before moving on to work on bigger and more ambitious films.