Wearing her producer hat - rather than that of actress or Cannes juror - Michelle Yeoh is to start legal proceedings against French distributor M6/SND.
Yeoh and Thomas Chung, managing director of Hong Kong-based Han Entertainment, through which the Yeoh-produced film The Touch is financed, say they will be seeking damages and interest from M6 for failing deliver on an agreement to buy French rights.
At Cannes 2001, M6 was the first international distributor to sign on for The Touch, a pre-sale agreed three months before the film went into production. But a dispute over the casting of Ben Chaplin and the cost of the French rights soured relations (see Screendaily, April 26), meaning that long-form memoranda have not been finalised and a contract still not signed.
Attempts to renegotiate the deal have petered out and now, exactly a year after their initial agreement, the dispute is heading for settlement in the courts. The final straw, as far as Yeoh and Chung are concerned, was a meeting in Cannes set for last Thursday (May 23) which M6 called, but which did not take place.
"As producer I felt I should be at the meeting, although my schedule that day was extremely busy with jury meetings, notes and the amFAR benefit gala," said Yeoh. "We have put our honour and reputation on the line with this film. We need to deal with people who walk the talk. Unfortunately they have not left us room to wait any longer." The film opens in Hong Kong in late July. "We do not enter into litigation easily. But the matter is now in the hands of our [Los Angeles] lawyers" said Chung.
SND/M6's chief Thierry Desmichelle told Screendaily: "I'd rather not add oil to the fire by adding any comment". Previously, however, Desmichelle has insisted that M6 has a deal memo giving his company the right to handle the picture and that Han cannot license it to other distributors. Chung sees it differently. "There is no dispute concerning title to copyright where there is a licence, as nothing has changed hands through a licence," he said. "Many parties are interested in The Touch for France."
Commentators have speculated that the new, unnamed TF1-Miramax distribution venture could be a front-runner to pick up the French rights. Miramax already has North American and some other English-language rights on the film. But Chung would not be drawn on the possibility. "Miramax is a long term partner on many other projects. I'm sure we will do other movies with them."
The $18.6m film is a romantic action adventure in the style of Romancing The Stone, in which a troupe of acrobats set out to protect an ancient family from a group of international criminals. It is directed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Peter Pau and stars Yeoh, Chaplin and Moulin Rouge baddie Richard Roxborough.