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Woo’s ‘Cliff’ splits into two movies

Larger budget allows for additional pic

John Woo’s forthcoming epic “The Battle of Red Cliff” — the most expensive Asian movie ever made — has just gotten a whole lot bigger.

Pic has seen its budget balloon from a previously announced $50 million to $75 million. It’s being touted here by Summit Entertaiment, which has set up shop off-Market in the Hyatt.

In Asian territories where the Han Dynasty (Third century) source material “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” is very familiar, pic will now be released as two movies of two hours each. In the rest of the world it will be offered as a single pic of two and a half hours.

“We are selling one Asian version and one non-Asian version,” Summit chief Patrick Wachsberger said. He added that he has already inked multiple deals during the first days of Berlin, but said his company does not disclose contractual details.

“It was impossible to condense all this material into two hours,” producer Terence Chang said. “Asian audiences know all the 10 main personalities and all the battles. The split gives us room for the set pieces and the character development.”

Chang said that the split was proposed by China Film Group chief Han Sanping and makes use of a narrative cliffhanger moment when the heroes celebrate their victory, before crossing the river for a further fight near the title’s red cliffs.

Screenplay is by “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” scribe Wang Hui-ling.

Production now is set back by two weeks. Lensing starts March 28 and continues until late September. Locations will mostly be around Beijing and set building is already under way.

For the river battle scene producers intend to use 2,000 boats in addition to CGI effects. While production will be continuous, Asian release for the part is being skedded to preem ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, and the second closer to the end of that year’s holiday period. Dates for the international version have not been fixed.

Summit holds world rights outside the five Asian territories that Chang and Woo’s Lion Rock Entertainment will retain and outside North America, where the film is repped by CAA.

The expansion has seen all the partners increase their investment, though the bulk of the budget inflation falls to the Asian partners and distributors.

“Everyone seems happy with this,” said one of the Asian financiers. “For a bit more money they get two movies instead of one.”

Coin comes from China Film, which has bankrolled pre-production so far, Japan’s Avex Group and its allied Chinese talent and production company Chengtian plus the distribbers that Chang has arranged. These include Rentrak of Japan, Mediaplex/Showbox from Korea and CMC from Taiwan.

Gap finance is being arranged by Standard Chartered Bank.

Pic stars Chow Yun-fat, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Taiwanese supermodel Lin Chiling, Hu Jun (“Lan Yu”) and Zhang Fengyi (“Farewell My Concubine”). Producers are close to adding a major Japanese star.

“What is going to happen next is that we sell it as one movie with fantastic possibilities on DVD or that distributors get so excited by the ‘Lord of the Rings’-like prospects that we end up putting it out as two movies everywhere,” Wachsberger said.

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