Action director Jan de Bont has been hired to helm the upcoming English-language version of the Chinese folktale, Mulan, with actress Zhang Ziyi – who is well renowned in the U.S. for her roles in martial arts epics like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero – as the titular lady warrior.

Zhang will produce Mulan alongside several other independent organizations, including Movie Plus Productions of Canada and the Bejing-based Bona International Film Group. Contrary to our previous Mulan report, Walt Disney Pictures will not be backing the project with a budget of $100 million.

Disney successfully brought the tale of Fa Mulan to life in animated form back in 1998.  The classic Chinese story originated from a 6th century poem and revolves around a young woman who disguises herself as a man and goes to war in place of her elderly father.

The legend of Mulan had been brought to life on the big screen in numerous Chinese productions long before Disney released its more kiddie-friendly take on the story, which came complete with a wise-cracking, miniature dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy.  Screenwriter John Blickstead will pen the new live-action version of the tale.

Jan de Bont spent several years working in Hollywood as a cinematographer prior to his directorial debut with the Keanu Reeves thriller Speed back in 1994.  Mulan will be the first film to feature de Bont at the helm since he led the sequel Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life with Angelina Jolie back in 2003 (see below).

While de Bont will bring a certain Hollywood blockbuster mentality to the new production of Mulan, his output as a director has been mixed at best.  He scored a box office hit with Twister back in 1996, but some of his other films like Speed 2: Cruise Control and the aforementioned Tomb Raider sequel were both critical and financial flops in theaters.

Mulan will be an independent production and may favor elaborate set pieces over expensive FX – de Bont’s storytelling chops may not always be up to par, but he has certainly proven himself a solid action director in the past and should continue to do so with his new film.

Production on Mulan begins in Shanghai next week on September 15th and is expected to wrap around January 2011.

Source: THR