‘Red Cliff’ ready for its closeup

John Woo epic to bow in Asia this week

The arduous task of bringing Asia’s biggest-ever pic, “Red Cliff,” to the bigscreen has been a battle worthy of the violent and chaotic time in which the movie is set.

Pic, adapted from China’s classic novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” is over four hours long. For Asian territories, the movie is being split into two parts, with the first to be released on Thursday in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea.

In Malaysia, it bows on July 17; Japan is aiming for November.

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 January.

“Red Cliff” is a co-production of China Film Group, South Korea’s Showbox Entertainment, Taiwan’s CMC Entertainment group and Japan’s Avex Entertainment.

Director John Woo is hoping the film will mark his glorious return home to Asia after decades in Hollywood. But backers of the $80 million project are taking no chances, marking the launch with a grueling promo push to win hearts and minds across the continent.

The story is set in the final days of the Han Dynasty, in the year 208, covering the war that established the Three Kingdoms period, when China had three rulers.

Bad weather, on-set tragedy with the death of a stuntman and cast walkouts all combined to put a pall over the pic’s production. But happier times seem to be ahead. Post is finally wrapping on the second half of the Asian version of the project.

The talent — stars Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen and Lin Chiling, as well as Woo and producer Terence Chang — was wheeled out in Asian capitals in a bid to ensure that the film captures the Asian imagination to the extent it must to secure success across Asia.

“I have wanted to make this film for almost 20 years. James Wong Jim suggested I make a film about the war in 1986, but due to funding problems, it couldn’t be done. After Wong’s death, I felt a strong urge to make it happen,” Woo told a news conference in Hong Kong. Reassuringly, he added that the film’s second half was nearly ready, except for CGI details.

Movie on tour

The first of a busy run of charity premieres took place in Korea on June 26, with the second in Hong Kong on June 30. After that, the troupe headed into mainland China, with Beijing seeing preems on two successive nights.

The next stop was the earthquake zone on Thursday, where the movie screened at Chengdu’s Wu Hou shrine. The complex, built in 223 A.D., includes memorial halls and burial sites of many of the characters featured in the film.

The decision to take “Red Cliff” to Sichuan won kudos for the production because it will help give a lift to the survivors of the May 12 quake, which left upwards of 90,000 dead or missing.

In a sign that years out of China have not dulled his understanding of the sensibilities of the local market, Woo invited 100 doctors, nurses, soldiers, volunteers and journalists who experienced the quake and helped with the rescue and relief work or reported about them to attend the ceremony, and paraded some of them up the red carpet.

“Red Cliff” spent Friday in Shanghai, followed by Guangzhou on Sunday and Shanzhen today. Then it is the turn of Taipei (Tuesday and Wednesday) and Singapore (Thursday), finishing off in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur on Friday.

Asian auds are keen to welcome back local son Woo, who left Hong Kong to make his name in Hollywood with “Face/Off” and “Mission: Impossible II.”

Tony Leung initially dropped out of the picture, to be replaced by Takeshi Kaneshiro. Soon thereafter, Woo’s long-time ally Chow Yun-fat ankled. Then two days later Leung was back in the line-up, this time in the lead, replacing Chow.