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October 25, 1998|SUZANNE MANTELL

Amy Tan's "The Chinese Siamese Cat," published by Macmillan in 1994, will soon spring to life in a mixed animation-real life action family feature from George Daugherty's IF/X Productions, the company that produced the Emmy-award winning "Peter and the Wolf." The deal-for the feature plus a 26-episode TV series-is in the final stages of negotiation with a major studio, a package brokered by agent Lance Klein of ICM.

Daugherty optioned Tan's 32-page story, her first original book for children, from agent Sandra Dijkstra, after more than a year of eyeing the volume in bookstores and thinking that surely some giant studio had already snatched up film rights, thus leading him to formulate a lesson for producers not unlike the "lesson" Tan dispenses in her book: Small guys can sometimes beat the big guys.

In Tan's tale, Sagwa, a little cat born in China many centuries ago, learns that you're never too small to change the world. Her parents work for an evil magistrate who uses their tails to ink evil edicts. When Sagwa falls into an inkpot, she is able to transform the edicts--Thou shall not sing, Thou shall not dance--into generous, kind-hearted orders by blotting out the "nots." The magistrate sees his subjects singing and dancing for the first time and is himself overjoyed.

"We've taken the core of the story and adapted it into a larger story," says Daugherty from his office in the San Fernando Valley. "The live action sequence is about a girl, Lily, who is half Chinese, half Caucasian, who leaves the Midwest to visit her Chinese family in San Francisco. She doesn't know how she fits in." The TV series, which will probably launch in fall 1999 before the feature film, will allow IF/X to embellish the original story further.

Daugherty and his co-producers, IF/X partner David Wong, Tan and the illustrator, Gretchen Schields, have commissioned an original score from composer Nathan Wang, who is working with the Los Angeles Opera on an adaptation of Lisa 's memoir of her Chinese grandfather, "On Gold Mountain."

In addition to producing, scripting and directing the Tan work, Daugherty expects to create a live concert version of "The Chinese Siamese Cat," with Tan reading on stage, for the 1999 season of the Hollywood Bowl, where since 1990 he has conducted an annual extravaganza, Bugs Bunny on Broadway." That production originally opened on Broadway.

Suzanne Mantell can be reached at bookz2moviez@earthlink.net.

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