Cliff hanger

Ac­tion mae­stro John Woo is putting the fin­ish­ing touches to Asia’s most ex­pen­sive movie: a Chi­nese his­tor­i­cal epic. But the film­ing of Red Cliff has been plagued by tor­ren­tial rains, set dam­age and the de­par­tures of two of its stars. Clifford Coo­nan re­por

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

HIS­TO­RI­ANS be­lieve that one mil­lion sol­diers took part in the bat­tle of Red Cliff, the bloody con­fronta­tion that gave birth to China’s Three King­doms. Never one to shy away from a chal­lenge, Hong Kong’s di­rec­tor-in-chief John Woo – film­ing for the first time in Man­darin since re­lo­cat­ing to Hol­ly­wood 15 years ago – has made sure that his ¤55 mil­lion take on this piece of Chi­nese his­tory will be as epic as the orig­i­nal bat­tle it­self.

Red Cliff could ce­ment China’s rep­u­ta­tion as a film-mak­ing cen­tre. Af­ter a pro­duc­tion sched­ule blasted by ac­tor-sched­ul­ing is­sues and ap­palling weather, the big­gest Chi­nese movie of all time is now pretty much in the can.

The movie has got some of the big­gest names in Asian cin­ema, in­clud­ing Woo him­self, who is pre­sum­ably hop­ing for a hit af­ter a lack­lus­tre run at the US box-of­fice. It’s the most ex­pen­sive movie ever made in Asia, with fund­ing com­ing en­tirely from in­de­pen­dent pro­duc­ers. It’s also four hours long in one ver­sion, and has had to over­come se­ri­ous cast­ing changes.

The story is based on part of a clas­sic Chi­nese novel, Ro­mance of the Three King­doms. Set in the year 208, the fi­nal days of the Han Dy­nasty, it cov­ers the war that es­tab­lished the Three King­doms pe­riod, when China had three rulers.

The movie has truly epic pro­por­tions for Asian cin­ema – the fi­nanc­ing is ground­break­ing, the bud­get im­mense, the length fear­some and the spe­cial ef­fects tipped to be awe­some.

The pro­duc­tion has been dogged by dif­fi­cul­ties, many of them weather-re­lated (tor­ren­tial rains washed away part of an out­door set in He­bei in north­ern China), and other linked to the myr­iad per­son­nel changes on the film.

In March 2007, Tony Leung, of Lust, Cau­tion and In the Mood for Love, dropped out of the project. At the time, he says he felt un­able to com­mit to the six-month shoot Red Cliff de­manded, and he was re­placed by Ja­panese star Takeshi Kaneshiro.

Soon af­ter­wards, old Woo hand Chow Yun­fat left the set. This was a real shock, given that Woo made Chow a leg­end, es­tab­lish­ing him as Hong Kong’s Robert De Niro in such smash hits as A Bet­ter To­mor­row, The Killer and Hard Boiled.

The cir­cum­stances of Chow’s de­par­ture re­main mys­te­ri­ous. Chi­nese­me­dia say it was be­cause of un­rea­son­able de­mands by the ac­tor and con­di­tions that com­ple­tion bond com­pany CineFi­nance could not ac­cept. Chow coun­tered, say­ing the same firm bonded him twice be­fore with the same re­quire­ments. Two days af­ter Chow quit, Leung was back in the lineup as lead ac­tor, re­plac­ing Chow.

Red Cliff is writ­ten as a four-hour film. For Asia, it will be split into two parts, with the first re­leased in July in China, Hong Kong, Tai­wan and Korea, and Oc­to­ber in Ja­pan. Au­di­ences out­side Asia will get a sin­gle movie, ex­pected to clock in at two and a half hours, co­in­cid­ing with the re­lease of the sec­ond part in Asia in De­cem­ber.

For Woo, the pic is partly a pa­tri­otic ex­er­cise and a re­turn to his roots. One of the key rea­sons for mak­ing Red Cliff such a ma­jor pro­duc­tion is that he wants main­land Chi­nese crews to learn from the ex­pe­ri­ence. “Red Cliff is the movie I’ve spent the most en­ergy on, pre­pared for the long­est, and is the most tir­ing since I started mak­ing movies,” he told the South­ern Daily news­pa­per.

Shoot­ing of­fi­cially wrapped on Novem­ber 30th, but some sec­ond unit work re­mained, and Ter­ence Chang, the film’s pro­ducer and Woo’s part­ner in Lion Rock En­ter­tain­ment, ex­pressed doubt that the film would be fin­ished in time for Cannes. “We’ll de­liver it in May, but maybe it won’t be quite ready. It’s been a long shoot but we’re in pretty good shape.”

Chang de­scribes the movie as a cross be­tween Troy, 300 and The Per­fect Storm. “There’s a lot of CGI in there.” It has yet to find a US buyer. “We’ve al­ready sold it to a lot of Euro­pean ter­ri­to­ries, but we are hold­ing back on North Amer­ica be­cause peo­ple have a wrong im­pres­sion about Chi­nese films there. They think of Hero and Crouch­ing Tiger, Hid­den Dragon, so we want to show them the movie when it’s fin­ished.”

Ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try sources, a lot of money is be­ing asked for the North Amer­i­can rights, and stu­dios are wait­ing it out, wary of spend­ing too much fol­low­ing the less than spec­tac­u­lar in­ter­na­tional per­for­mances of films such as Chen Kaige’s The Prom­ise and Zhang Yi­mou’s Curse of the Golden Flower.

China cri­sis: Tony Leung in the epic but tor­tured Red Cliff

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