Friday, July 18, 2008

Red Cliff opens in Asia

War epic "Red Cliff" declares opening victory in Asian market
12 July 2008
Xinhua News Agency

"Red Cliff", reportedly Asia's most expensive ever film, gained 27 million yuan (3.91 million U.S. dollars) of box office on its first-day release, setting the highest record among homemade movies.

The first of this two-part epic motion, adapted from China's classic historic fiction Romance of the Three Kingdoms, hit cinemas in Asia on July 10. Its first-day box office was the highest among all movies released in the mainland so far this year and higher than last year's Hollywood blockbuster Transformers whose first-day box office was 22.41 million yuan.

Weng Li, spokesman of the China Film Group Corporation, the movie's main investor, said that the group was confident of its box office later on. "The romantic epic fits in the taste of audience of all ages and the upcoming summer vacation will bring more people to the cinema. I believe more records will be set," he said.

On its first day release, the movie also gained 17 million New Taiwan dollars in Taiwan and 2 million HK dollars in Hong Kong. The movie directed by Hollywood-based Hong Kong director John Woo has several leading Asian stars in its cast, including award-winning Hong Kong actor Tony Leung, Taiwan supermodel Lin Chi-ling, Taiwanese-Japanese heartthrob Takeshi Kaneshiro and mainland's leading actor Zhang Fengyi. It attracted public attention for the 80-million-US-dollar investment, said to be the most expensive of all Asian movies.

The movie revolves around the epic Battle of Red Cliffs in 208 AD in China's Three Kingdoms period. It was a famous military case of the weak winning the strong, in which a 50,000-strong allied forces of the southern warlords Liu Bei and Sun Quan defeated the powerful 800,000 troops of the northern warlord Cao Cao.

The biggest scenes in the movie involved 2,000 actors and crew, and a large amount of special effects were used, according to earlier media reports. The movie's second episode is set to be released in December. By then, a condensed version covering both episodes will also be released outside of Asia.

Lots of extras, little substance
11 July 2008
Business Times Singapore

John Woo's Red Cliff is overly busy, badly bloated and ultimately flawed, says GEOFFREY EU

WATCHING Red Cliff, action director John Woo's big-budget historical epic about a storied incident that took place during the Warring States period in Han Dynasty China in 208 AD, is a little like ordering a deluxe burger with everything on it, and then being given a plate with all the trimmings but no actual meat inside the bun.

Where's the beef? Or more appropriately, what's the beef with Red Cliff? Well, chances are that Asian audiences will go home starved of entertainment value because Woo has served up an overly busy, badly bloated and ultimately flawed action movie that has been split into two parts, with the second part - the one depicting the actual Battle of Red Cliff - only being released in several months' time.

To further the analogy, the unintended effect of Red Cliff is a cinematic dish with lots of extras but not nearly enough real substance. Western audiences will be fed a single pared-down version of the four-hour- long two-parter, with less exposition and more emphasis on the action.

Currently, part one of Red Cliff assumes that audiences are reasonably familiar with their Chinese history. The story is based partly on real events and characters in history but it also draws from a fictionalised account made popular in the 13th century novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

There's plenty of epic potential, and Woo includes various scenes of opposing armies marching, fighting and preparing to do battle, including effects-laden scenes of a vast armada of warships. Unfortunately, the fight scenes in Red Cliff all look and feel similar, conveying a sense of being convoluted and uneven - basically, it's boring in parts.

The story involves the leaders of two independent kingdoms who team up to thwart the ambitions of Cao Cao (Zhang Fenyi), the Han prime minister who fancies himself as emperor of a unified China.

Early on, after a defeat of Cao Cao's forces, the leader of the Shu Kingdom, Liu Bei (You Yong), sends his chief military strategist Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) to broker an alliance with Sun Quan (Chang Chen), ruler of the Wu Kingdom, and his viceroy Zhou Yu (Tony Leung). Sun Quan's tomboyish sister Sun Shangxiang (Zhou Wei) is also an integral member of the coalition. Even if they combine forces, it's their 100,000 troops against the opposition's 800,000-strong army and navy.

Red Cliff also inflicts a heavy dose of melodrama, with a prominent secondary storyline involving Cao Cao's unhealthy obsession with Zhou Yu's porcelain-skinned wife Xiao Qiao (Chiling Lin).

In order to establish that Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu are sensitive New Age males, we also get to witness a musical bonding scene between them and their duelling yan qin, (the ancient seven-stringed instrument). This, from a director who more or less invented stylised violence in classic Hong Kong movies such as A Better Tomorrow and Hard Boiled and Bullet in the Head.

Despite various distractions, Red Cliff is still an action movie at heart. It's messy, disjointed and some of the fat needs to be excised. Hopefully, the filmmakers will be able to render part two more palatable, but based on the current showing, the prognosis is not good at all.