Whatever happened to the Beverly Hills Ninja sequel?

Okay, so I guess this is now out of the bag. I’ve known about this for a couple of years, and some of the stickier details of it (because a friend worked on the picture), but had to keep my mouth-fly zipped until it looked safe to do so.

I’m actually kinda glad someone’s bet me to the punch. Hollywood Reporter has the lowdown on why we never saw the “Beverly Hills Ninja” sequel (first announced in 2008). In short, someone was unfairly dismissed from the production and the film ran out of money half-way through.

“Tokyo Jones : The Legend of the Dancing Ninja”, more a spin-off than a sequel to the comedy starring the late Chris Farley, would tell of a young Caucasian, Ikki, raised by an Asian family after a mix-up at sea when he was a baby, that grows up knowing that he’s different from those around him, but also quite confident he is a ninja and not just any ninja, but the legendary Dancing Ninja. Ikki gets to prove himself when his beloved Sensei is murdered and Ikki goes to Hollywood to track down his killer, the evil action movie superstar Ansel LaDouche.

The trade says :

Last year, Mitchell Klebanoff, who co-wrote the original and was tapped to direct the follow-up, won a lawsuit against Korean investors who bought rights to the franchise from Sony. An arbitrator in the dispute determined that the investors hadn’t properly terminated him as a director and awarded him nearly $262,000.

Now comes a new lawsuit from Jay So, who says he was contracted by Klebanoff and the Koreans to act as a producer on the film but was stiffed on his own compensation during the development of Ninja 2.

According to So’s complaint filed on Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, he graduated from the American Film Institute, was the recipient of a prestigious scholarship, won a best picture award at AFI and produced a suspense thriller entitled Dead in the Water.

In 2007, he says he was introduced to Klebanoff and was hired as producer for an up-front fee of $100,000, a credit, and backend participation in Ninja 2.

Afterwards, So claims that he commenced substantial pre-production efforts and activities, including sourcing potential investors. He says that he was the one who lined up Jungho Han, the Korean who agreed to provide 100 percent of the financing for the project. He adds that he set up the production entitity, “Beverly Hills Ninja 2, LLC,” contacted and worked with visual effects and bonding companies to obtain estimates for the film, met with Sony, negotiated waivers with the guilds to start casting, and so forth.

Then, in May 2008, he says that Klebanoff and Han made a deal with each other without his knowledge to change the name of the production entity to “BHN2, LLC” and replace him with Han.

As a result, So inquired about his $100,000. He then had a meeting Han, who allegedly told him that $200,000 had been obtained for the project, and that the money would be going to Klebanoff and Han. So was purportedly refused his fee.

Since that time, So has been going after his money. He says that he sent a formal demand letter in December 2008 for his producer fees. The timing of these details could be of importance as this lawsuit goes forward, as there figures to be some question whether the statute of limitations has passed on So’s claims.

Meanwhile, around the time that So was karate-chopped out of the picture, the film experienced some money issues, according to details that were revealed in the earlier Klebanoff lawsuit. The film stopped production in LA, before resuming in Vancouver. Some of the film was shot, but it was never completed because Klebanoff and Han argued over things like whether the film’s lead actress should appear nude in the film.

“Tokyo Jones” had Lucas Grabeel, Taiwanese model-actress Lin Chilling and David Hasselhoff onboard.

(And my friend that worked on the film? For personal reasons, this would become the most important and rewarding project he ever worked on).