Chinese actress will play geisha part

After many years in the Hollywood pipeline, Arthur Golden's best-selling novel Memoirs of a Geisha is set for a big screen adaptation. Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, best known to international audiences for her role in 2000's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, will play the lead role.

The film will be directed by Chicago director Rob Marshall and produced by Steven Spielberg.

Ken Watanabe and former Bond girl Michelle Yeoh will co-star. First published in 1997, Memoirs of a Geisha has been a long-nurtured project for director Rob Marshall.

However, the director was unable further the project as he was locked into a contract with Miramax, while Columbia Pictures and DreamWorks held the rights to the book, told BBC.

Zhang Ziyi, who co-starred in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," is in final negotiations to play the title character in the long-in-the-works film adaptation of "Memoirs of a Geisha," while the Oscar-nominated Ken Watanabe has signed on to play the male lead. Watanabe, who received an Academy Award nomination as best supporting actor for "The Last Samurai," will portray the Chairman, a high-powered executive with whom the young geisha, Sayuri, falls in love.

The Chinese-born Zhang will play Sayuri, the young orphan from a remote fishing village whose life changes when she is sent to the city to learn the ways of the geisha, according to Reuters.

Based on Arthur Golden's best-selling but controversial novel, the film is scheduled to begin production next month in Los Angeles and Japan, informed The Hollywood Reporter.

The story centers on Sayuri, an impoverished girl who is sold into slavery and must go through intense training, sacrifice and backstabbing to become one of the charming entertainers known as geisha, China Radio International reported Saturday.

Chinese big shot Gong Li plays her rival, Hatsumomo, while Michelle Yeoh portrays her mentor, Mameha, informed Xinhuanet.

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