John Woo film is China's biggest grosser

Part one of the John Woo-helmed “Red Cliff” has become the biggest-grossing film of all time in China in dollar terms.

China Film Group, which is both a major investor in the pic and its Chinese distributor, said Monday that the film had passed the symbolic 300 million yuan mark ($43.7 million) on Sunday, 42 days after its June 30 release.

The total makes the film comfortably the biggest-grossing Chinese-made film of all time, beating previous record holder Zhang Yimou’s “Curse of the Golden Flower,” which made $37.5 million in 2006-07.

“Red Cliff” bested this year’s top performers, “Forbidden Kingdom” and “CJ7,” each with some $27 million, several weeks back.

“Cliff’s” dollar total is also ahead of “Titanic,” which in April 1998 became the biggest-grossing film of any origin, though conditions were different a decade ago.

For a start, appreciation of the Chinese currency has given the “Cliff” comparison a boost. At prevailing 1998 exchange rates, “Titanic” achieved $38.7 million, though in local currency terms it is still ahead of “Red Cliff” with 320 million yuan.

More telling, the cinema industry was in the doldrums in China at the end of the 20th century. The modern multiplex era was four or five years away from starting, and filmmakers could not muster the $80 million financial resources Woo and producing partner Terence Chang were able to employ.

Still, “Red Cliff” is helping to drive the Chinese box office to new heights.

On Thursday, Zhang Hongsen, deputy director of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television Film Bureau, forecast that box office earnings in China this year will expand by $100 million to exceed $583 million.

“Red Cliff’s” second installment is skedded to hit Asian screens in January, just in time for the Chinese New Year holiday.

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