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'Twilight"s Catherine Hardwicke to direct China-Hollywood romantic epic set in ancient city

Hollywood director Catherine Hardwicke smiles during an interview in Beijing, Thursday, June 25, 2015. Photo: AP

"Twilight" director Catherine Hardwicke said she is making a sweeping romantic epic set in an ancient Silk Road city located in present-day western China.

"Loulan" will be based on a city and kingdom of the same name that mysteriously disappeared hundreds of years ago. Its ruins are surrounded by desert in China's Xinjiang region, which stretches to Central Asia. One mummy unearthed from the area in recent decades is known as the "Loulan Beauty," and she was Caucasian with European features.

Hardwicke said the $50 million China-U.S. co-production will revolve around a princess who may be the Loulan Beauty's "great-great granddaughter," and who will be played by an American or English actress. It will be set in 200 B.C., at a time when Loulan was a thriving city on the Silk Road trading route that linked China to the West.

The script is still being written, but the story in what is planned to be the first part of a trilogy will see Loulan fought over by Han Chinese and warlike nomads, the Huns.

"We have the princess who is in a kind of neutral kingdom at the nexus to the Silk Road, Loulan, and she's trying to keep peace and stay neutral, try to stay like Switzerland between the Huns to the north and the Han dynasty to the east," Hardwicke said.

She said the two warring sides both send "young charismatic hot men diplomats to try to win her heart and her loyalty." The movie will be a coming-of-age romance, set against the backdrop of a mixing pot of cultures including Persians, Indians, Greeks, Romans and Chinese, she said.

Hardwicke, who directed the first installment of the successful movie series "Twilight" about a young girl caught in a love triangle with a vampire and a werewolf, told The Associated Press she thought she had been asked to direct "Loulan" because of "Twilight" — "that kind of powerful love story that was intimate yet had scope and scale and beauty."

Explaining why she took on "Loulan," she said, "I loved the idea of this mix of cultures and these young kids that are in love and that are struggling with very heavy issues of war and peace."

Filming in Xinjiang and Beijing is expected to start in August 2016, with a target release date of late 2017 or early 2018.

The film is being produced by Loulan Mystery Movie & TV Culture (Beijing) Co. Ltd., a private special purpose company formed with Chinese investment, and Village Roadshow Pictures Asia, whose holding company is the Los Angeles-based Village Roadshow Entertainment Group.

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