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John Woo’s rocky return to China

'Red Cliff' had long, arduous shoot

BEIJING — When “Red Cliff” filmmakers look over the edge, they can finally see the finish line. After a production schedule blasted by thesp-scheduling issues and appalling weather, the biggest Chinese movie of all time is now substantially in the can, although some shooting on the John Woo-helmed pic will continue until February.

Terence Chang, the pic’s producer and Woo’s partner in Lion Rock Entertainment, says shooting officially wrapped Nov. 30, but some second unit work remained to be done, and he doubted the pic would be ready in time for Cannes next year.

“We’ll deliver it in May, but maybe it won’t be quite ready. … It’s been a long shoot but we’re in pretty good shape,” Chang says.

“Red Cliff” is Woo’s first Chinese-language effort after years in Hollywood helming projects such as “Broken Arrow,” “Face/Off” and “Mission: Impossible 2.” With a budget of $80 million, “Cliff” is the most expensive movie ever made in Asia, with funding coming entirely from independent producers in the region — China’s China Film, CMC Entertainment in Taiwan, Avex in Japan and South Korea’s Showbox.

This story is based on part of the classic Chinese novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms.” Set in the final days of the Han Dynasty, in the year 208, it covers the war that established the Three Kingdoms period, when China had three rulers.

The production has been dogged by difficulties, many of them weather-related — torrential rains washed away part of an outdoor set in Hebei in northern China — but some linked to the myriad personnel changes on the film.

In March, Tony Leung Chiu-wai (“Lust, Caution”) dropped out of the pic. At the time, he says he felt unable to commit to the six-month shoot “Red Cliff” demanded, and he was replaced by Takeshi Kaneshiro. Soon afterwards, close Woo ally Chow Yun-fat ankled.

The circumstances of Chow’s departure remain mysterious — Chinese media say it was because of unreasonable demands by the thesp and conditions that completion bond company CineFinance could not accept. Chow countered, saying the same firm bonded him twice before with the same requirements.

It came as a shock, given that Woo made Chow a legend — establishing him as Hong Kong’s Robert De Niro in movies such as the 1986 pic “A Better Tomorrow” and “Hard Boiled.”

Then, two days after Chow ankled, Leung was back in the lineup as lead actor, replacing Chow. The remaining cast includes Zhang Fengyi, Chiling Lin, Chang Chen, Vicky Zhao and Hu Jun.

CineFinance became involved in the production, but Cheng denies speculation that the completion bond company had taken over the picture.

There have also been rumors of deaths on the set, which Cheng rejects. “That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” he says.

“Red Cliff” is written as a four-hour film. For Asian territories, the pic is to be split into two parts, with the first released in July in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea, and October in Japan.

Auds outside Asia will get a single movie, expected to clock in at 2½ hours, coinciding with the release of the second part in Asia in December next year.

Repped in international territories by L.A.-based Summit Entertainment, the pic was widely sold at Berlin’s European Film Market, but still has no North American distributors.

“I don’t want to discuss sales until I have a film to show,” Chang says.

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