Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke will make a sweeping romantic epic set in an ancient Silk Road city located in present-day western China. Loulan will be based on a city and kingdom of the same name that mysteriously disappeared hundreds of years ago. Its ruins are surrounded by desert in Xinjiang , which stretches to Central Asia. One mummy unearthed from the area in recent decades is known as the "Loulan Beauty", and she was Caucasian with European features. Hardwicke said the US$50 million China-US co-production would revolve around a princess who may be the Loulan Beauty's "great-great granddaughter", and who will be played by an American or English actress. It will be set in 200 BC, when Loulan was a thriving city on the Silk Road trading route that linked China to the West. The script is still being written, but the story in what is planned to be the first part of a trilogy will see Loulan fought over by Han Chinese and warlike nomads, the Huns. "We have the princess who is in a kind of neutral kingdom at the nexus to the Silk Road, Loulan, and she's trying to keep peace and stay neutral, try to stay like Switzerland between the Huns to the north and the Han dynasty to the east," Hardwicke said. She said the two warring sides both send "young charismatic hot men diplomats to try to win her heart and her loyalty". The movie would be a coming-of-age romance, set against the backdrop of a mixing pot of cultures including Persians, Indians, Greeks, Romans and Chinese, she said. Hardwicke, who directed the first instalment of the successful movie series Twilight about a young girl caught in a love triangle with a vampire and a werewolf, said she thought she had been asked to direct Loulan because of Twilight — "that kind of powerful love story that was intimate yet had scope and scale and beauty". "I loved the idea of this mix of cultures and these young kids that are in love and that are struggling with very heavy issues of war and peace," she said, explaining why she took on the new project. Filming in Xinjiang and Beijing is expected to start next August, with a target release date of late 2017 or early 2018. The film is being produced by Loulan Mystery Movie & TV Culture (Beijing) Co Ltd, and Village Roadshow Pictures Asia.