Chinese Heist Story ‘The Peking Express’ to Be Directed by Chen Daming

Acclaimed Chinese film director Chen Daming is expected to direct “The Peking Express,” a book-to-film adaptation of the story of an infamous train robbery that took place 100 years ago.

The non-fiction book was written Beijing-based writer and lawyer James Zimmerman and was an ‘Editor’s Choice’ selection by the New York Times. It describes the raid on a luxury express train by Chinese bandits in Shandong Province in 1923 and the ensuing six-week hostage standoff that captivated the world. So extraordinary are the events recounted in The Peking Express that it reads like fantasy…yielding a captivating story of robbery, murder, hostages and intrigue…,” said the paper in a review of the book.

More from Variety

A screenplay is currently being drafted and it is envisaged that the film will be structured as a China-international co-production.

The package is being put together by Chen and veteran producer Chris Lee, who was previously president of production at TriStar Pictures and Columbia Pictures, and was the founder and director of the University of Hawai‘i Academy for Creative Media System.

Chen is known for writing and directing Chinese indie hits “Manhole” and “One Foot off the Ground” and for writing the Andy Lau-starring “What Women Want.” He recently completed “Unspoken,” featuring Zhang Hanyu, Michael Cudlitz and Jake Abel.

“The local Shandong authorities have shown great interest in the story and have welcomed the opportunity for filming on location at the various sites, with much of the key architecture still in existence after 100 years,” said Chen.

Zimmerman has extensively trekked the mountainous area of southern Shandong where the train was derailed, and hundreds of hostages were dragged across the countryside. The Shandong city of Zaozhuang (previously known as Tsaochuang) is no stranger to train films, having hosted several, including the epic 1956 “Railroad Guerrilla” about the heroic Chinese efforts against the Japanese invaders during World War II.

“The talent will inevitably come from a multinational set, given the passengers dragged off the derailed train by the bandits were prominent citizens of China, the U.S., Britain, France, Italy, Mexico, Germany and Denmark,” said Chen. “And those cast as the bandits will be a mixed bag — if not an eclectic and clever band — of heroes, scoundrels, and eccentrics,” he said.

“When I first received the galleys from Jim, I knew I had to get it to my long-time production partner, writer-director Chen Daming, because of his ability to draw great performances with complex characters combined with exciting action for the big screen. Jim’s book is a breathtaking page turner that is all the more amazing because it’s a true story that resonates today,” said Lee.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.