Zhang Ziyi: V. Summers/AMP/Sipa/Newscom
Brian Hiatt
August 20, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The bestseller ”Memoirs of a Geisha” is finally coming to theaters — with a cast that its producers describe as ”the most distinguished team of Asian actors ever assembled for an American movie.” Oscar nominee Ken Watanabe, who crossed swords with Tom Cruise in ”The Last Samurai,” will play the male lead, the Chairman. ”Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” costar Zhang Ziyi is negotiating to play the title character, a.k.a. Sayuri, an orphan who becomes a geisha while experiencing love and treachery.

Michelle Yeoh (”Tomorrow Never Dies”) is negotiating to play Mameha, Sayuri’s mentor, while Gong Li (”Raise the Red Lantern”) is likely to play the backstabbing Hatsumomo. The film, to be directed by Rob Marshall (”Chicago”) is set to begin production next month in Japan and L.A.. Steven Spielberg, who had once intended to direct the movie, will instead be a producer.

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