Japan banks on John Woo’s ‘Red Cliff’

Toho-Towa, Avex partnering for Nov. release

TOKYO — John Woo’s period epic “Red Cliff” was a box office hit in China, but now the question is whether the two-parter can recoup in its Japanese release.

Toho-Towa and Avex are partnering for a Nov. 1 release of the first part on 551 screens, the biggest of any Asian pic in Japan. The country is the region’s most lucrative B.O. territory, and distribs are hoping it will far exceed the Chinese B.O. total of $46 million.

However, “Red Cliff” star Takeshi Kaneshiro’s first Japanese-language pic in six years, the 2008 fantasy “Accuracy of Death,” was a B.O. disappointment here. Also, helmer Woo has not had a hit in Japan since the 2000 “Mission: Impossible II.”

Pic was the opener at the Tokyo Film Fest Oct. 18, kicking off a big promo push with Woo, Kaneshiro and other cast members in attendance.

With the support of corporate backers including the TV Asahi network, and lack of strong competition, B.O. looks promising. The pic’s backers, who $80 million into its production, hope “Red Cliff” will surpass the $40 million earned by Zhang Yimou’s “Hero” in 2003.

Woo’s pic also opened strongly in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia.

Japanese music conglom Avex took a large $35 million investment in the pic, in exchange for equity and Japanese distribution rights.

“‘Red Cliff’ has a lot going for it, including its cast, scale and the familiarity of the Japanese audience with its story, based on the ‘Tale of Three Kingdoms,'” says box office analyst Hiro Otaka of the Bunka Tsushin entertainment news service.

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