New Life for Moto and Chan?

Two venerable Asian movie detectives--Mr. Moto and Charlie Chan--are being revived, possibly to become lucrative series characters in the profitable mold of James Bond.

Producers Gene Kirkwood and John Hyde are developing "The Adventures of Charlie Chan" for Warner Bros., inspired by the detective created by fiction writer Earl Derr Biggers, the subject of some 20 films, most shot in the '30s and early '40s. A series of Caucasian actors portrayed Chan, who spouted pseudo-Chinese philosophy while solving mysteries with his subservient "No. 1 son."

Kirkwood was asked how he'll deal with issues of ethnic stereotyping and casting that have been raised in recent years regarding the Chan characters.

"One, we have David Mamet, who is a brilliant writer and director," Kirkwood responds. "And second, we'll deal with them as Chinese people, not Americans playing Chinese as a joke. It won't be comedy."

Mamet plans to set his film in the '30s, cast a lead actor of Chinese ancestry, and make "a serious film like 'The Godfather' and 'The Untouchables' (which Mamet wrote)," Kirkwood says.

"We feel ("Chan") can be a refreshing film in the '90s. It was never done right before. We're going to do it right."

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Mr. Moto, portrayed by Peter Lorre in a series of 20th Century Fox films in the '30s, was revived briefly by Fox in 1965 in a low-budget effort ("The Return of Mr. Moto," starring Henry Silva).

Now novelist John P. Marquand's Japanese detective and master of disguise gets new life--and a contemporary setting--under producer Stuart Birnbaum.

"The most important thing we want to do is cast Oriental," says Birnbaum, who's producing for Fox. "I sold the studio on the idea by saying John Lone is Mr. Moto--even though he's Chinese." (Lone is "interested" but not signed, Birnbaum says.)

"We purposely want to avoid stereotyping the character. We're going out of our way to create a character that is much more interesting and dynamic because of his background."

The goal, he adds, is "a Zen detective," with one Japanese and one American parent, "who has a foot in each world."

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