Guest Post: The Heist in the Mulberry Garden By Luis F. Salcedo
The production of silk was one of the closely-guarded secrets of ancient China, as it was a major export item and source of wealth, but a group of Byzantine monks managed to steal the secret by smuggling silkworm cocoons out hidden in their beards. What if the story were told...as a comedy? What if it starred...Seth Rogen?
What follows is the pitch for this movie from Luis "Lou" Salcedo...
The Heist in the Mulberry Garden
It’s The Interview meets the sword and sandal in the Far East. I took some historical liberties with the dates and character but it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Xander (James Franco) and Stavros (Seth Rogen) are two Christian monks leading a mission by the Patriarch of Constantinople to evangelize to the Chinese Emperor and his royal court. Stavros tries to convince the elderly Emperor Wu to convert. Xander meanwhile is busy seducing the Emperor’s granddaughter Liu Jingyan. Xander is caught by the girl’s father Liu Yan. Both Xander and Stavros are imprisoned and sentenced to be executed but luckily escape in the chaos generated by the Eastern general Hou Jing seizing power. The other missionaries under Xander and Stavros’ leadership are not so lucky.
It takes them several years to return to Constantinople in one piece.
The Patriarch of Constantinople is none too pleased. He wants to have them sentenced to do missionary work in Northern Europe (a death sentence!) but the Emperor Justinian (Jesse Eisenberg) gets him to back off when hearing about Xander’s misadventures with the Chinese princess in the mulberry garden. He wants them to go back to China and steal some of the Emperor’s silkworms. Justinian’s marriage to his wife Theodora (Jennifer Lawrence) is on the rocks and there are rumors that she is having an affair and might leave him. The silkworms would come in handy in showing that he is worthy of her love or something like that.
They agree only because the alternative is risking a chance experiencing the blood eagle. The two plan to outwit Justinian and immediately escape to India when the opportunity arises. The Roman emperor, suspicious as he is, puts them under the supervision of his commander Flavius Belisarius (Rupert Friend). They set out from Constantinople, leading an expedition of one thousand, including several hundred Hun mercenaries. They plan on going to China via the steppes.
The Roman expedition is betrayed by the Hunnic commander Dengizich mid-journey. The expedition is additionally almost wiped out by a band of angry Tibetans but Xander, Stavros, Belisarius and part of the expedition reach the border. They are greeted by the general Wu Mingche and his subordinates Pei Ji and Huang Faqu.
The current Chinese ruler, Emperor Xuan of Chen is unimpressed by the Roman expedition and believes them to be spies sent by the Northern Zhou and Qi. Then well…I got nothing else at the moment but you know where this may go.
The final scene would be something along the lines of Seth Rogen and James Franco’s characters sitting alone on a Chinese junk sailing down the Yellow River. Maybe the whole junk is filled to the brim with silkworms.
James Franco as Xander
Seth Rogen as Stavros
Jesse Eisenberg as Emperor Justinian
Jennifer Lawrence as Empress Theodora
Ian McKellen as Patriarch Menas
Rupert Friend as General Flavius Belisarius
Daniel Henney as Dengizich
Hasan Minhaj as Ramagupta
Kevin Hart as Rosco
James Hong as Emperor Wu
Henry Golding as Emperor Xuan
Li Bingbing as Lady Qian
Fan Bingbing as Lady Liu Jingyan
Chen Jianbin as Liu Yan
Andy Lau as Wu Mingche
B.D. Wong as Pei Ji
Daniel Wu as Huang Faqu
Liu Xiaoqing as Zhang Yao'er
Jackie Chan as Hou Jing
Ian Chen as Chen Shubao
The idea for this movie would be either a giant $100 million dollar money sink that gets torpedoed due to public pressure mounted by a combination of woke social media activists and nationalist elements in the Chinese government who would see the film as insensitive. Expect some whining about cultural sensitivity coming from state media. Or it becomes a moderately successful, acclaimed movie that no one likes to acknowledge except for the rare movie contrarian on Reddit.