Sun Entertainment Sues Philip Lee and Markus Barmettler’s Inversion

Yoshiko Yap

Legal action to wind up Inversion Productions, a company controlled by Philip Lee and Markus Barmettler, executive producers of “The Revenant,” has begun in Hong Kong.

The action is being taken by Sun Entertainment Culture, a Hong Kong-based studio with mainland Chinese backing.

A petition to wind up Inversion Productions is set to be heard in the High Court in Hong Kong in February.

The action arises from Sun’s attempt to recoup a film production loan originally made to Inversion Productions (previously known as TNC Productions) in late 2014 in connection with the project to make ambitious indie sci-fi film “Inversion.”

Set to have been produced with a budget of $120 million, disaster thriller “Inversion” tells the story of a Chinese scientist and an American pilot who must work together to save the world when gravity suddenly disappears.

The project has been through multiple partners including Mark Damon’s Foresight Entertainment. At one stage it was set to have been written by a team comprised of screenwriter, producer and director Paul Haggis, Bragi Schut, David Arata and Michael Finch. In 2019, when Sun Entertainment went public with its commitment to the film, “Inversion” was described as based on a screenplay by Golden Horse nominee Li Wei, who wrote Zhang Yimou’s “Shadow.” Travis Fimmel was reportedly attached to star at one stage and the producers were reported to have been in negotiations with Samuel L. Jackson as well.

Speaking on behalf of a company called Facing East Entertainment, Lee told Variety in March 2019 that he and Barmettler had been trying to assemble the project for some seven years. Sun Entertainment said that it expected to provide a “significant portion” of the production budget.

In notarized communications with Variety, Sun Entertainment said that it had provided an initial $7.5 million loan to Inversion Productions, transferred in four instalments between December 2014 and February 2015. An additional $1 million instalment was loaned by Sun Entertainment in March 2019, bringing the loan principal to $8.5 million.

Sun says that the loans have not been repaid by Inversion Productions and the “Inversion” film has not been produced. In its winding up petition, Sun Entertainment says it is now entitled to $24.1 million, comprising the principal plus agreed interest and ‘default interest’ at 4% per month. Sun’s petition says that Inversion Productions is insolvent and unable to pay its debts.

Though the matter was discussed by Sun Entertainment and Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, Variety understands that, beyond the civil winding up operation, no criminal actions have begun in any jurisdiction. Variety has reached out to Lee and Sun Entertainment for comment. The ICAC said that it “would not comment on any specific case.”

Founded in 2011, Sun Entertainment has been involved in Hong Kong-Chinese co-productions such as 2017’s “Paradox” and 2015’s “SPL II: A Time for Consequences,” starring Wu Jing. But after new tax rules in 2018 sent the mainland Chinese film industry into a spin, the company began looking to expand in a more international direction. “Inversion,” along with another feature and a TV series, were to be its first overseas moves.

Lee was an associate producer on Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” line producer on Zhang Yimou’s “Hero,” and executive producer on “Cloud Atlas” and “Assassin’s Creed.”

Barmettler was producer on 2008 Chinese film “Purple Mountain,” and executive producer on “Conviction,” “Assassin’s Creed” and “The Captain.”

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