August 28, 2014
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First look at Netflix's 'Marco Polo' series
Upcoming 10-episode show promises to be epic
By Sean Fitzgerald, QMI Agency


Lorenzo Richelmy in a scene from Netflix's "Marco Polo"



JOHOR BAHRU, Malaysia - Netflix’s next phase of original content is going to be anchored by something pretty epic. And by a historical figure we’ve kind of forgotten about.

“When we say ‘Marco Polo’, we think of a swimming pool game,” says filmmaker John Fusco, sitting on the edge of a couch in a break room on the sprawling Pinewood Studios complex in the sweltering city of Johor Bahru, Malaysia. “So, in so many ways, I see Marco Polo as an untapped story, a really significant and relevant one….I think you need a long-form TV series to capture it all.”

This week, Netflix has announced its upcoming historical saga — called, you guessed it, Marco Polo — will be hitting the streaming service on December 12. And we’ve also been given a first look at the show’s characters and costumes through a series of images released from the show.

The upcoming 10-episode series will feature a large budget and a global cast, something that can be seen in the photos, which include Italian newcomer Lorenzo Richelmy in the title role, Chinese performer Zhu Zhu (Cloud Atlas, The Man With the Iron Fists) as Marco’s love interest Kokachin, British actor Benedict Wong (Prometheus, Sunshine) as Emperor Kublai Khan and Chinese actress Joan Chen (Twin Peaks) as Khan’s wife Chabi Khatun.

The show will follow the Italian explorer’s journey as he travels from his home in Venice to the court of Kublai Khan, and finds himself in the middle of a war in 13th Century China. Along with a heavy dose of martial arts — creator Fusco holds a black belt in Shaolin Kung Fu and is currently working on the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — the plot will also involve sexual intrigue, political manoeuvring and father-son drama.

Fusco, whose writing credits also include the movies Young Guns, The Babe, Hidalgo and The Forbidden Kingdom, says he has felt a long-time kinship with Marco Polo.


“I’m of Italian descent, I grew up with up with almost an obsession with Eastern culture and China, and I started studying martial arts at a very young age,” he says. “I remember having an uncle who came to visit one day, when I was 12. He came into my bedroom, and I had Chinese scrolls up, I had incense, and a veritable shrine to Bruce Lee. He came in, and he said, ‘You’re an Italian kid who thinks he’s Chinese. What are you, Marco Polo?’ And I remember thinking, after he left, ‘I’ve gotta look into Marco Polo.’ So, I’ve had pretty much a life-long interest in Marco Polo.”

Fusco says the idea for the project first developed in his head in 2007, while taking a trek across Mongolia on horseback with his 13-year-old son and a local guide.

“On that trail, while we were all talking about the history of the Khan Empire, every now and then Marco Polo’s name would come up. ‘Well, according to Marco Polo...’ And as I was on horseback, riding across, you have those long hours of riding across vast steppe, you daydream, you think. And it just all sort of came together. I felt, ‘This is the time to do Marco Polo.’ ”

Fusco’s vision was helped along by executive producer Harvey Weinstein, who has said that Marco Polo is “up there with Game of Thrones as the biggest series that’s ever been shot.”

Aside from filming at the 20-hectare complex in Malaysia, Fusco and the production team also travelled to Venice and Kazakhstan to shoot scenes for the show.

Netflix’s other upcoming original projects include the Wachowskis’ sci-fi series Sense8, a gritty show about drug lord Pablo Escobar, an untitled drama from the creators of Damages and a number of shows set inside the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Twitter: @SeanDFitzgerald

sean.fitzgerald@sunmedia.ca

 




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