The Mummy franchise takes a spellbinding turn as the spectacular action shifts to Asia for the next chapter in the global adventure series that has earned more than $800 million at the box office worldwide. Blockbuster action director ROB COHEN (The Fast and the Furious, xXx) invites audiences to experience a forbidden land with the epic The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.
Now, in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, the trademark thrills and visually stunning action of The Mummy series will be redefined for a new generation.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is written by ALFRED GOUGH & MILES MILLAR (Spider-Man 2, television's Smallville). Reprising their roles as producers in the series are SEAN DANIEL (The Mummy series, upcoming The Wolfman), JAMES JACKS (The Mummy series, Intolerable Cruelty), STEPHEN SOMMERS (The Mummy series, upcoming G.I. Joe) and BOB DUCSAY (The Mummy series, Van Helsing). CHRIS BRIGHAM (The Aviator, The Good Shepherd) serves as executive producer.
To tackle the largest production to ever shoot in China, the accomplished behind-the-scenes team includes director of photography SIMON DUGGAN (Underworld: Evolution, Live Free or Die Hard), production designer NIGEL PHELPS (Troy, Pearl Harbor), editors JOEL NEGRON (xXx, Gridiron Gang) and KELLY MATSUMOTO (The Mummy series, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift), costume designer SANJA MILKOVIC HAYS (Gridiron Gang, Blade), special effects coordinator R. BRUCE STEINHEIMER (Miami Vice, Gangs of New York) and visual effects supervisor GINGER THEISEN (Eight Below, Hidalgo). The music is by RANDY EDELMAN (Shanghai Noon, 27 Dresses).
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Adventure Heads East: The O'Connells' Triumphant Return
Though director Rob Cohen's resume includes blockbuster actioners such as xXx and The Fast and the Furious, many moviegoers do not know that the filmmaker is a student of anthropology who has long been intrigued by--as well as sometimes a resident of--Asia. When approached to helm an epic adventure that would take The Mummy series in a Far-Eastern direction, Cohen realized he could finally join two of his deepest passions: grand-scale filmmaking and China.
The director explains his lifelong interest in the country in a foreword to the moviebook companion piece for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. He provides, "I have a deep love of Chinese culture and a complete fascination with the sweep and tumult of its 5,000-year history. Since high school, when my mother began painting Chinese watercolors as a hobby, China had occupied my imagination and reading time. I was intrigued by various dynasties, most especially the Tang and the Ming with their early explorers discovering Indonesia, India, Africa and the giant 'treasure ships' that may have circumvented the world long before Magellan, and might have reached the Americas long before Columbus."
As he read the screenplay for a new Mummy film--penned by Alfred Gough & Miles Millar--Cohen was impressed by both the script's humor and epic adventure outlined for the O'Connells. He had looked to the Far East several times for source material and believed this project would dovetail well with his curiosity of and studies about China. Cohen explains, "I'm a history buff, and I had read an enormous amount on Chinese history even before I came into this. I have loved the culture since I directed Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and a miniseries about two Chinese brothers immigrating to the United States, called Vanishing Son."
It was fortunate for all involved that the producers behind the juggernaut hits that launched it all--1999's The Mummy and 2001's The Mummy Returns--wanted to head in a new direction for the series and had commissioned Gough & Millar to shake up the franchise. They felt they had exhausted the possibilities in an Egyptian setting and were looking for a filmmaker who could take the trouble-seeking O'Connells out of Africa and expand their adventures to the continent of Asia. Of the audience's continued interest in the films that share the O'Connells' escapades, producer Stephen Sommers reflects, "I think the reason they were so successful is that they are romantic adventures set in exotic worlds. People just love that."
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor marks the third time James Jacks and Sean Daniel have produced a Mummy film. For this chapter, they would be joined by Bob Ducsay and Stephen Sommers as producers. All four men had begun their collaboration by creating the first two in the series, with Sommers directing and Ducsay serving as editor on both and executive producer on The Mummy Returns.
"It took us years before we had an epiphany of using the Terracotta Warriors in China," remembers producer Ducsay. "We realized this might be a great catalyst for a new adventure with characters the audience had grown to love in the first two stories."
The team discovered in Cohen a filmmaker with the experience necessary to create a film on the scale they imagined. "Thankfully, Rob wanted to make the picture, because he was an absolutely perfect fit," Ducsay sums. "He has the skill set to mount a gigantic production on two continents, is fantastic with action and actors and has a great sense of humor. These are all essential ingredients in the DNA of a Mummy movie"
"The idea that the Terracotta Warriors of Xi'an were, in fact, the mummies, really appealed to me," says Cohen. "It was all about exploring the true history of China during two periods, 200 B.C. and 1946, in an unusual way and having a lot of fun with it. It was an opportunity to use all the goodwill of The Mummy and the wonderful characters that Steve Sommers set up. All the great elements are there, but I wanted to take it in a whole new direction, away from Egypt and into Asia. It's a brand-new adventure for our heroes; spectacular, colorful and completely Asian."
About his interest in returning to the series, producer Sean Daniel admits that his obsession with this genre as a child continues to bring him back for more. "When I was a kid, I used to go to every Boris Karloff version [of a mummy film] I could find and the many other mummy movies that followed," he recalls. "I cut pictures of the mummy out of the Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and stuck them on the wall. When I went to Universal, I immediately started to talk to them about making a mummy movie, as they are a personal love of mine."
Adds producer Jacks: "We've been part of the O'Connell family for almost a decade now. To help see their adventures continue and Rick and Evy begin to pass the mantle on to their son, Alex, makes us all feel proud. I admit, it's like seeing one of your own children grow up."
With director Cohen on board to inject an Asian influence into the series, the returning producers from the first two chapters and Gough & Millar's revamped screenplay, it was time to cast a shape-shifting emperor and a family of fighting O'Connells. Not to mention the thousands of man hours necessary to design gun battles and high-speed chases, creating the worlds of 200 BC and 1946 would prove quite a challenge.
Timeless Heroes and Brutal Warlords: Casting the Film
Our adventure begins with the awakening of the Emperor Mummy that young explorer Alex O'Connell, now 21, is tricked into raising. The fiercest warrior China has ever seen was unable to achieve world domination when cursed by sorceress Zi Yuan thousands of years ago. Newly awakened, he knows there is a world still to conquer. To do so, he must achieve eternal life by locating the fabled Shangri-la. If he can drink from the pool of eternal life there, he will be able to raise an army that's been buried underneath the ground for millennia. Unless Rick, Evy and Alex O'Connell can stop him first.
Having Brendan Fraser return to the role of dashing adventurer Rick O'Connell was essential to the project, as all who were involved believe he is one of few actors who can blend action and light comedy so well. "We could never imagine a Mummy movie without Rick O'Connell," states Ducsay. "Brendan is the very embodiment of the character. He looks fantastic; he is in even better physical shape than he was in the first picture, and he does these incredible stunts himself."
Fraser appreciated that the distance and time he's had since the last project was mirrored by his on-screen family in the script. He reflects, "It's allowed the family to develop, and it's given us an arc to play: reuniting a family that has grown apart. We find a husband and wife bored with having retired, to say the least, and a son who wants to be a chip off the old block. He wants to please his father but is a bit of a mama's boy, makes a few mistakes and stumbles onto the mother lode of all big baddies: an entombed emperor who was a despot. Through a series of misfortunes, as is the tradition of these movies, 'Here we go again!' There's another mummy unleashed on the world, and it's up to the O'Connells to stop him."
Similarly, there wasn't a question in director Cohen's mind about who would play the Emperor. "Jet Li was always the one and only choice," he states. "He was going to play the villain for me in Sinbad, so we already knew each other."
As the international action star wasn't available for the entire duration of the lengthy shoot for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Cohen suggested that the script explain that the Emperor had been cursed and turned into a Terracotta Warrior. The director recalls, "We had the idea that a terracotta CG character walk and talk like Jet; then, at a certain point, he comes back as the flesh-and-blood Jet. He loved the idea and so did the studio."
For his part, Li was impressed with fellow Buddhist Cohen and his deep love and understanding of Chinese culture. He appreciated his take on the project and signed on to portray the Dragon Emperor. Comments the succinct Li, "His shooting style is like a Hong Kong director's: full of energy and change, and very fast."
Oscar® winner Rachel Weisz decided not to reprise the role of Evy, the character she had portrayed for the first two films. The film's long production schedule and overseas locations would be a burden for any actor raising a young family. Therefore, the search began for her replacement.
"After many casting meetings, we did screen tests with five actresses," recalls Cohen, "and the one that blew us away was Maria Bello. She has such strong chemistry with Brendan that it wasn't much of a decision. She had the beauty and precision, humor and inner fire that have always propelled her in such films as The Cooler and A History of Violence. Maria had already mastered the English accent and brought freshness to the role, which added to my hopes to reboot the franchise."
Bello was eager to take on the role of a heroine in whom she found a kindred spirit. "I related to Evy as an adventurous soul," she tells. "I always considered myself a bit of a gypsy, and I jump off a lot of cliffs. In second grade, I read romance novels; I was addicted to them. They were always about some woman who dressed like a man and snuck onto a ship, and a captain fell in love with her. She was a great swordsman and a greater fighter. I just always wanted to be that heroine."
"Maria had such fortitude when she came in to read for the role," Fraser remembers. "She is a great actress who has done a host of diverse roles, but if you ask, she'll say, 'All I ever want to do is be in a movie where I crack a whip, fire a gun and chase around on a horse.' We find Rick and Evy have, respectively, hung up their guns and archeological digging roles and become a bit sedentary, and basically she is bored. She takes to going back into the field with great moxie and enthusiasm."
Fans of the series will be happy to know that John Hannah returns to the role of Evy's brother, the bumbling Jonathan, who is as much hindrance as he is help to the O'Connell family's missions. Says producer Ducsay: "I remember when we approached John about his role in the first picture, he couldn't figure out why we would want to cast him in a comic role. He just doesn't see himself as funny, but of course he is, and I think that's been borne out in the series."
Offering much of the comic relief in the film, Jonathan reminds audiences what we would likely do when being chased by the cursed undead: run like mad. Laughs Hannah, "Jonathan's always looking for a way out first. That's always been the kind of everyman approach if some immortal, 2,000-year-old guy is coming at you to slap your head off. My first instinct would be to get out, not to stand and have a fight with him."
Casting the role of Rick and Evy's son, Alex, was a challenge. The character had to be young and exciting, physically credible, and, at the same time, present a feeling of vulnerability to the events that were about to transpire (which he helped to bring about). Alex needed to show the strength, brawn and heroism of his father, combined with the brains and curiosity of his mother. After an exhaustive search, the filmmakers met with charismatic Australian actor Luke Ford, a performer who suggests a rare blend of innocence and power. He offered the perfect match for Cohen's series of "old bull/young bull" confrontations scripted for Alex and Rick.
Cohen recalls his first meeting with Ford: "I was screen-testing several young actors; some of them were famous in the United States. When I looked up, they were all standing around looking at Luke and talking to him, but he was clearly the dominant one. For young males to like another young male, he has to be cool, not threatening and not full of ego--because young men know how to push back against an actor who thinks he's too cool. I remember thinking, 'Here are these stars standing around; they're talking to this kid, and he's very natural with him and accessible.' Plus, he was the best actor."
For his breakthrough role, Ford found a young man making many of the mistakes his father had. Too, his father was reluctant to lay down his guns and pass the mantle along to his son. "Alex has always been in the shadow of his father," Ford states. "Rick made such an impact in the world of archaeology, and Alex wants to do the same. By discovering the Emperor, he is trying to make his mark. There is some conflict between Alex and his parents, because they still think of him as an eight-year-old boy. It's very frustrating to him because he wants to be treated as part of a team fighting adventures together and not be overprotected."
Malaysian actor Michelle Yeoh was asked to play ageless sorceress Zi Yuan, the woman responsible for transforming the Emperor into a terracotta prisoner after he destroys her happiness. Yeoh's grace and beauty entranced both cast and crew. Fraser sums the admiration for her: "There is a regal quality she brings to Zi Yuan--the wizardlike ephemeral keeper of the fountain of youth. Michelle has such dignity that you really believe she is a serene beauty who has been waiting thousands of years to pick a moment and seek her revenge."
The role of Zi Yuan was one that instantly attracted the international star, lauded in such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Memoirs of a Geisha. "I was very excited about the character because she is magical," Yeoh explains. "In the story she meets the love of her life, but she is thwarted by the Emperor, who wants her for himself and asks her to bestow on him the secret of eternal life. She refuses to and uses her powers to curse him. It's a wonderful role."
To play Zi Yuan's daughter (and Alex's love interest), Shihuang's immortal tomb guardian Lin, Cohen found young Chinese actor Isabella Leong, while casting in China. The actor was eager to break into English-language films and would not only be challenged by the dialogue, but also by the martial arts movements required to play an assassin who is sworn to keep the Emperor Mummy forever locked away.
The production chose Hong Kong actor CHAU SANG ANTHONY WONG--known for breakout roles in The Painted Veil and Infernal Affairs--to play the character of General Yang. The actor, who had previously worked with Michelle Yeoh on two films, was cast as the merciless second hand of the Dragon Emperor, the man who believes mankind must be ruled by force.
Finally, Irishman Liam Cunningham was cast as Rick's old partner-in-crime and flying buddy Desi "Mad Dog" Maguire; British actor DAVID CALDER was selected to portray fellow explorer Wilson; and American performer Russell Wong was chosen to play Ming Guo, the Emperor's loyal servant and love of Zi Yuan's life.
Cast locked, it was time for the production to begin traveling across two continents to shoot the exotic world of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.
After 91 days of shooting and more than 2,000 shots filmed on two continents, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor wrapped. For Rick O'Connell himself, it was hard to say good-bye again, but he was excited that another chapter was beginning. Brendan Fraser closes: "The spirit of this film is one of adventure, fun, romance, things that go bang, lots of action, some great fights. We're here to entertain."
To celebrate the wrap of principal photography in truly Chinese style, SFX supervisor Steinheimer created a fireworks display that lasted nearly eight minutes. Crewmembers, who inevitably had become blasé to the excitement of explosions, stunts and other daily events, stood wide-eyed at the incredible showstopper--a fitting end to the roller-coaster action-adventure of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.
The parting words go to our director. Concludes Cohen of time spent immersed in a culture he cherishes: "China was a great place to set a movie that has fantasy, imagery, history and incredible action. I would like people to feel that the culture of China has been dealt with very fairly and beautifully. The Chinese are very warm and emotional people. If you have the proper respect for their culture, they will meet you not just halfway, but 80 percent of the way. They are wonderful, artistic collaborators."
Universal Pictures presents, in association with Relativity Media, A Sommers Company/Alphaville production of A Rob Cohen film: Brendan Fraser, Jet Li in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, starring Maria Bello, John Hannah, Russell Wong, Liam Cunningham, Luke Ford, Isabella Leong and Michelle Yeoh. The music is by Randy Edelman; the costume designer is Sanja Milkovic Hays; the editors are Joel Negron and Kelly Matsumoto. The production designer is Nigel Phelps; the director of photography is Simon Duggan, ACS. The executive producer for the film is Chris Brigham. The film is produced by Sean Daniel, James Jacks, Stephen Sommers and Bob Ducsay. The film is written by Alfred Gough & Miles Millar and directed by Rob Cohen. © 2008 Universal Studios www.themummy.com
READ MORE ABOUT director ROB COHEN and screenwriters ALFRED GOUGH & MILES MILLAR
READ MORE: Time Travel: Two Continents Over Two Millennia; Shooting in Montreal; Lensing in China; Creating an Epic Backdrop: Production Design
READ MORE: Battling the Undead: Swordplay and Martial Arts; VFX and SFX: Blending Fantasy and Reality; Raising the Emperor Mummy; Crafting Legions of Warriors; AND Building New Creatures
READ MORE: Action Costuming: Creating the costumes
THE ART OF SEQUELS