Cindy Jia Li has moved to Canberra to co-produce Aodaliya Gold. Photo: Mavis W. Photography
Sam Pu was Australia's only Chinese bushranger. Canberra writer Robert Macklin has teamed up with Chinese-born film producer Cindy Jia Li to make a multimillion dollar international co-production, Aodaliya Gold, about him - with some embellishments.
Macklin says, ''It was my original idea inspired by the true story.''
''Aodaliya'' is Mandarin for Australia and Pu came to NSW in the early 1860s, one of many Chinese attracted by the promise of gold.
He fell in love with an Australian girl, Emma Golding, and got caught up in the riots at Lambing Flat.
''He was totally disillusioned and took to the road as a bushranger. There was one big problem: he couldn't ride a horse, so he had to run away through very thick bush where horses couldn't follow him too well,'' Macklin says.
Pu killed a trooper in a gunfight in 1865 and was eventually captured and hanged in Bathurst. Here, Macklin has departed from history.
''In the movie he doesn't get hanged, that's an awful end to a movie. In the movie he teams up with our own bushrangers - Johnny Gilbert, Frank Gardiner, Ben Hall - and with a Chinese girl who came to the goldfields with a group including Sam.''
She joins the four of them for an adventure romance that also explores the relationship between the two cultures.
A preliminary trailer for Aodaliya Gold featuring local actors including Andy Minh Trieu and Tom Williams will be filmed in April at Gooromon Park Riding School in Hall to attract interest from Chinese investors.
Canberra Philharmonic Society helped with the period costumes. Silver Sun Pictures, a Canberra production house, is a partner in producing the trailer and will be heavily involved in the subsequent film, which will be filmed in the Canberra region.
''The actors will be in the movie but not necessarily playing the same parts. We're going for much bigger stars, two top Chinese stars and two excellent Australian actors,'' Macklin says.
Helping to bring all this together is Cindy Jia Li. She was born in Hangzhaou, China and worked in television and film in China in various roles, including assistant director and production co-ordinator. She worked with Oscar-winning director Ang Lee on his 2007 film Lust, Caution.
''I speak English, which put me in a good position dealing with international directors.''
She established her own production company, Jia Films, which makes commercial films and ''more artistic'' films, including documentaries for the Discovery Channel in the US.
Li fell in love with an Australian and moved to Canberra last year, though she still travels back home to deal with business. She has established Jia Films in Australia and has produced some commercials in Sydney.
Li met Macklin last year at a Screen ACT conference and they discussed some ideas - one was about the 19th-century British journalist Ernest Morrison who worked in China (''I feel that would be better to develop as a TV series,'' Li says). She was excited by the story of Sam Pu, which seemed to have great cinematic possibilities.
''It's a great story, a very good mix with the Chinese background and history and also with Australian history. It's something that's never been done before.''
And with the artistic licence taken to change Pu's fate and introduce elements such as kung fu into the mix she thinks it will have international appeal.
Screen ACT is supporting production of the trailer, which Li will use, along with a treatment by Macklin, to drum up interest from investors in China and at international film festivals.
The proposed $20 million budget is, she says, ''large by Australian standards'' and will be raised both overseas and in Australia through corporate and individual investment.
It's early days for such matters as finding a director and cast but Li will seek high-profile Chinese actors for Pu and the female Chinese lead.
Li and Macklin hope filming will begin some time next year.