The Hollywood Reporter have broken the news today that John Woo will team up with the Creative Arts Agency and IMAX to bring his epic vision Flying Tigers- the million, 1940s set bilingual aerial battle movie that follows on from his excellent work on Red Cliff and is set to go into pre-production in September in China. Woo will also co-script the film along with LA based writer Chris Chow.

CAA will be charged with seeking studio finance, and casting on both sides of the Pacific, and Woo has already confirmed that he has one of the agency’s own clients in mind for the lead role of U.S. Army Air Corp Lt. Gen. Claire Lee Chennault- the contentious American officer whose volunteer Flying Tigers squadron trained the first generation of Chinese fighter pilots taking on Japan in the second world war:

It’s got to be a star but it’s hard to find the right one, because at that time Chennault was almost 50 years old. Ideally, I’ve been thinking of Liam Neeson as the title actor.

Neeson has made some astute career moves  in recent years, and you can see why Woo would believe him to be capable of shouldering the responsibility of such a prestigious role (he has after all just played Zeus) without withering. Alongside Neeson, should the dream casting come to fruition, would be someone like Liu Ye, who Woo also mentioned by name, though nothing is yet anywhere near being completed.

Hollywood Reporter have more on the plot:

Just as Red Cliff was an epic based on a historical battle well known in China, Japan and Korea, Flying Tigers is based on a story well known in China and the U.S.- at least among WWII and U.S. Air Force history buffs.

Chennault, whose 85-year-old widow is Beijing-born journalist-turned Washington, D.C.-based Sino-U.S. relations lobbyist Anna Chennault, ran the Flying Tigers squadron from southwest China. His volunteer fighter pilots flew successful missions around the city of Kunming in Yunnan province against the raiding Japanese and flew supplies to both Nationalist and Communist Chinese forces.

The story is of such historical and cultural significance to the nation that Woo hasn’t yet had to contend with the usually stoic interference of the SARFT (State Administration of Radio Film and Television) censors who are consciously pushing China’s cultural industries to make movies that reflect the one-party government’s views on the big screen. Woo offers his own theory behind the somewhat atypical leniency:

Chennault really did a great job for China. He really loved China. Older Chinese people really remember him, respect him and love him. No matter what kind of party was in power, they all liked him. Chennault worked with them all so well.

The team-up with IMAX  comes as the company looks to expand its presence in China, having already made moves on co-producing its first non-English language movie there, as well as selling a raft of new digital screens in the territory. The company’s CEO Rich Gelfond says that working with John Woo is a dream come true:

Woo’s passion and the story lend themselves in scope to an IMAX film… John is so visual and his great talent will help us from the start to make sure that the IMAX version of [Flying Tigers] realizes the technology’s potential.

If it’s anything like Red Cliff, I’m on board as an advocate already. Flying Tigers is penned provisionally for release in 2011.