John Woo’s “Red Cliff,” the most expensive Asian film ever, enjoyed a boffo start to its theatrical run across East Asia, where part one of the two-part epic bowed in five territories.

Actuals and distributor estimates point to an opening weekend north of $23 million.

China Film Group reported that the film grossed in excess of $3.65 million Thursday, its first day of release in mainland China. That led CFG’s topper Han Sanping to forecast Friday that the pic would pass the $14.6 million mark by the end of the four-day opening weekend.

Showbox, the movie’s Korean investor and distributor, reported 139,000 admissions on opening day. That equates to an approximate $973,000 from 437 screens, for a one-day per-screen average of $2,227. On Friday, Showbox forecast that the weekend total would be close to 1 million admissions. That would translate as a four-day weekend cume above $6 million.

In Taiwan, where the pic was released on 120 prints by the film’s Taiwanese investor and distributor CMC Entertainment in association with 20th Century Fox, Thursday opening day was a powerful $526,000. That was the biggest first-day figure of the year in that territory and a one-day screen average of $4,380.

On Sunday, CMC reported that the three-day total (Thursday through Saturday) had risen to $1.91 million.

In Hong Kong, where “Cliff” is handled by Mei Ah in collaboration with Edko Films, “Cliff” scaled $257,500 from 60 sites on its Thursday opening frame. That is a single-day per-screen average of $4,280.

In Singapore, pic was released on Friday by distributor Scorpio East on 46 prints, with a single session of sneak previews on Thursday night. Preview earned $33,000, with Friday clocking in at $176,000. Company said it regarded as “very, very positive” a 65% jump on Saturday to $309,000, for a two days plus preview cume of $518,000. Scorpio forecast that cume would comfortably top $625,000 for the three day weekend and expected “Cliff” to beat “Hellboy 2” which was released a day earlier, on Thursday.

Showbox said the figure is the highest ever for a Chinese film in Korea. In comparison, “Hero” enjoyed 58,000 admissions on its opening day and “House of Flying Daggers” tallied 60,000 admissions. Opening day of “Cliff” knocked “Hancock” down to 79,000 admissions Thursday, or an estimated gross of $550,000.

Showbox played the pic, which it trimmed by nine minutes, six times per day in Seoul multiplexes and five times per day in suburbs and second city venues. It occupied five screens at the COEX Megabox, which in several recent years has been the world’s busiest cinema, with the 8:30 a.m. screening on Thursday reportedly 70% full. Showbox said the casting of Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro helped the pic score well with older demographic sectors.

Second week will coincide with the beginning of holidays for high schools and competition from local blockbuster “The Good, the Bad, the Weird,” which is posting strong advance bookings.

“Red Cliff” received a generally positive critical reception in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, the film faces stiff competition from “Kung Fu Panda” and “Hancock,” which are still playing on large numbers of screens.

In China, the path has been largely cleared for “Red Cliff’s” outing, with considerably less competition. Additionally, tickets to the biggest movies in China are often priced at premium rates on opening day.

Malaysia releases part one on Thursday, Japan follows in November. Throughout Asia the pic is being released in two parts, with the second part skedded for January 2009, likely coinciding with the Lunar New Year.