Woo, Soderbergh films among projects

Cannes buyers have double-vision, with not one but three double features for sale at Cannes.

They include director John Woo’s unfinished $80 million Chinese period epic “Red Cliff,” and Steven Soderbergh’s two-part Spanish-language biopic of Che Guevara (“The Argentine” and “Guerrilla”).

Also for sale here is Jean-François Richet’s $80 million “Public Enemy Number One,” a two-part biopic based on famed gangster Jacques Mesrine’s prison-penned autobiography. Part One is titled “The Origins,” while Part Two deals with “The Legend.”

“Red Cliff” is the biggest-budget Chinese movie of all time, but is being given a real Hollywood treatment here.

That means a full-on junketing session skedded for Monday at the Carlton. It also means playing up Woo’s “Hollywood director” credentials and the film’s availability within Asia as a two-parter.

Pic is based on a large chunk of classic Chinese literature and took most of a year to lense, contains dozens of Korean-made CGI and effects shots and seeks to outdo every previous historical martial arts film that has battled onto multiplex screens in recent years.

The announced strategy has been to deliver the pic as two films that will release in July and December in Asia. In other territories, a single movie will be released simultaneous with, or shortly following, the Asian bow of the second part.

“The reason for the two-part approach is that the story and characters are so well known in Asia that John Woo felt it would be difficult to do them justice without. In international territories that doesn’t apply so much,” said Summit Intl. prexy David Garrett.

Some European distribs are understood to have eyed the two-legged version, but their contracts are for the single-parter.

Talent contracts reflect the Asian two-part approach. “When all the actors signed on to do this movie, they knew that it will be released as two movies in Asia,” said producer Terence Chang. “They have already been compensated for that.”

Chang makes a powerful case for the single-part version in Western markets. “For the western audience who are not familiar with this story and history, there seems to be too many characters, as well as too much plot leading to the final battle,” he said. “Some Hollywood exec suggested combining several generals on the allies’ side. (To Asian audiences), that would be like combining Churchill, De Gaulle and Roosevelt into one person when doing a movie about WWII. However, releasing it as one single movie in the West is important, and a lot of the characters will have to be sacrificed.”

Remembering the fortunes many made from “The Lord of the Rings,” the interest is understandable. Indie distribs around the world are desperate for franchises, high on effects, fantasy and marketing possibilities. With “Harry Potter” at Warner and “Narnia” at Walden Media and Disney, few are ever offered to the international indie market. With New Line now absorbed into big Warners, beyond “The Hobbit” there will be no more from that stable.

“I don’t know if we will be in a position to deliver a two-part version for a DVD director’s cut, but I’m sure that is an issue that will rear its head,” Garrett said.

Summit Entertainment did substantial pre-sales business on the movie at previous markets. Producers Woo and Chang are repping the North American rights themselves. They are looking for a top-level studio deal, but have repeatedly said that they will not close until they have a completed film to show the mavens.

The Cannes bash includes a new 10-minute clip that Chang said even Summit has not yet seen, the launch of “Wu Kingdom,” the pic’s Chinese web partnership with online giant Sohu.com, and dual press conferences for Asian and international press packs.

Stars on hand include Tony Leung, Chen Chang and Lin Chiling. A 350-seat dinner boasts Asian stars who don’t appear in the movies, such as Michelle Yeoh, Carina Lau, Zhang Ziyi.

Buyers are hovering over Soderbergh’s two Che films, though the completed film is still unseen. However, distributors were regaled with an impressive 10 minutes of excerpts, mainly from “The Argentine,” at Berlin.

With a reported $150 million in production and acquisition funding from financing and investment company Continental Entertainment Capitol, a subsid of the U.S. CitiGroup, French production, distribution and foreign sales company Wild Bunch put up 75% of the $61.5 million budget for the two films, which stars Benicio del Toro as the Latin American revolutionary.

Spain’s Telecinco/Moreno Films supplied the rest.

“Argentine” and “Guerrilla” have pre-sold many major territories, which was a case of distributors meeting substantial asking prices: among deals that have gone down are France (Warner Bros.), the U.K. (Optimum), Scandinavia (Scanbox), Italy (Bim Distribuzione, Wild Bunch’s Italo distrib partner) and Japan (Nikkatsu).

Sun Distribution Co. has Latin America; Spanish rights lie with co-producer Telecinco. Fox is said to have bought Spanish theatrical and vid rights, which would give it a possible leg-up in negotiating a North American deal.

At Berlin Wild Bunch was asking $10 million to $20 million for the U.S.

Studio specialty distribs and the Weinstein Co. have been trying to land an early screening, to no avail. Warner Bros. denies that it is in the hunt for the picture.

“Nobody is there seeing it or looking at it,” said one exec at the studio, which passed on the opportunity to finance the pic. As financially risky as the movie may be, if it’s a bona fide Oscar contender and potential specialty-style hit, North American distribs want to grab it. Market screenings are scheduled for May 22, the day after the official competition screening.

“Public Enemy Number One” stars Vincent Cassel, Cecile de France, Gerard Depardieu, Ludivine Sagnier and Mathieu Amalric. True tale is set in France, Canada, the U.S., Spain and the U.K. and Algeria.

The nine-month shoot of the two films ended in January. Backed by Canal Plus, Pathe and La Petit Reine, Kinology is showing a promo reel to foreign distribs Saturday; the cast and director will walk the Palais red carpet Sunday.

Two recent double features met different fates at the global box office. Weinstein Co.’s “Kill Bill,” from Quentin Tarantino, was split in two, with the first part grossing $181 million worldwide in 2003 and the second nabbing $152 million in 2004.

“Grindhouse,” on the other hand, was released Stateside as a double feature from Tarantino (“Death Trap”) and Robert Rodriguez (“Planet Terror”) and earned $25 million Stateside and not much better as two features overseas.

(John Hopewell contributed to this report.)

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