John Woo blockbuster to wrap in November

BEIJING — The John Woo-helmed “Red Cliff,” Asia’s biggest movie production ever — and one of its most beleaguered — plans to wrap on schedule. But a lot of challenges still lie ahead for the pic, securing North American distribution and living up to the high expectations of the Chinese government among them.

Extremes of weather have taken an epic toll. Shooting in the dry summer heat was a challenge in the northern China desert locations, while torrential rains washed away part of an outdoor set for the film in Hebei.

Budget for the film is “south of $80 million,” according to Terence Chang, the pic’s producer and Woo’s partner in Lion Rock Entertainment. That’s an enormous sum when a budget of a few million is considered high in most Asian countries.

Coin came from four Asian equity investors: China Film Group, CMC Entertainment in Taiwan, Avex in Japan and South Korea’s Showbox.

“Things are doing fine. We’ve still got about a month to shoot; we expect to wrap end of October, maybe mid-November,” Chang said.

It’s Woo’s first Chinese-language project after many years in Hollywood, helming projects such as “Broken Arrow,” “Face/Off” and “Mission: Impossible II.”

The screenplay by Woo Chan Khan, Guo Zheng and Sheng Heyu is for a four-hour film. For Asian territories, pic is to be split into two parts, with the first skedded for release in July and the second in December 2008.

Auds in other territories will receive a single movie, expected to clock in at 2½ hours, which will probably be released in December next year. Pic, repped in international territories by L.A.-based Summit Entertainment, was widely sold at the February edition of the European Film Market.

“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,” Chang said.

Industry sources said a lot of money is being sought for the North American rights, and studios are holding back, wary following the less-than-spectacular international performances of Chinese martial-arts pics.

Before the weather problems, the movie, based on the classic Chinese novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” was dogged by personnel issues.

Tony Leung Chiu-wai dropped out of the film in March; then Chow Yun-fat exited. That brought Leung back in the lead role.

Cast also includes Zhang Fengyi, Chiling Lin, Chang Chen, Vicky Zhao and Hu Jun.

The Chinese government desperately wants the movie to be a success as it will showcase the nation’s history ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Chang said.

Craig Hayes is visual effects supervisor, brought in by the Orphanage. Most of the principal CGI will be done in San Francisco.

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