The Director of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Will Explore a String of High-Profile Chinese Art Heists in His Next Film

Jon M. Chu looks at the intriguing possibility that the heists are an act of DIY repatriation by the Chinese government.

Jon M. Chu, director of Crazy Rich Asians, will direct The Great Chinese Art Heist. Photo by Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images)
Jon M. Chu, director of Crazy Rich Asians, will direct The Great Chinese Art Heist. Photo by Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images)

Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu is adapting the story of a mysterious rash of Chinese art and antiquities heists for his next film.

Warner Bros. will release The Great Chinese Art Heist, based on Alex W. Palmer’s 2018 GQ story of the same name, reports Deadline. The story identified a string of Chinese art thefts across Europe starting in 2010, including at the Chinese Pavilion at Stockholm’s Drottningholm Palace, the KODE Museum in Norway, and the Château de Fontainebleau outside of Paris.

“The full scale of the criminality is impossible to pinpoint, because many heists never make the headlines,” Palmer wrote. But the heists all appear to be professional jobs, and primarily targeted art and artifacts looted by foreign armies, with a special interest in objects that the British and French took from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860.

Visitors view a rare bronze pig's head sculpture from the 12 zodiac animal heads that once decorated the famed water-clock fountain in Beijing's Old Summer Palace. Photo by China Photos/Getty Images.

Visitors view a rare bronze pig’s head sculpture from the 12 zodiac animal heads that once decorated the famed water-clock fountain in Beijing’s Old Summer Palace. Photo by China Photos/Getty Images.

The movie will explore the intriguing possibility that the thefts are actually the work of the Chinese government, bent on taking matters of restitution into its own hands, rather than exhausting complicated legal channels. By government’s own estimate, 10 million antiquities have illegally left the country since 1840.

China launched a “treasure hunting team” to visit institutions in the US and Europe in 2009, with an eye toward identifying objects that had been taken from China by force. The thefts began the following year. Later, as some of the stolen objects have resurfaced in China, the government has shown little interesting in returning them to museums in the West.

A woman poses for photos at the ruins of the historic Jesuit designed Yuanying Guan (Immense Ocean Observatory) at the Old Summer Palace in Beijing on January 6, 2013. The Old Summer Palace, commissioned by the Chinese Emperor Qianlong and designed by Jesuit priests in a European style, was destroyed in 1860 by Anglo-French forces during the second Opium War. Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images.

A woman poses for photos at the ruins of the historic Jesuit designed Yuanying Guan (Immense Ocean Observatory) at the Old Summer Palace in Beijing, 2013. Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images.

Chu and his production company, Electric Somewhere, will produce the film along with Agnes Chu, Will Welch, and Geneva Waserman of GQ Studios/Conde Nast Entertainment.

Chu will also direct the forthcoming film In the Heights, based on the Lin Manuel Miranda Broadway musical, due out in theaters and on HBO Max on June 18, as well as a forthcoming adaptation of the musical Wicked.


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