Dialogue: Terence Chang

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BUSAN, South Korea -- Producer Terence Chang is almost finished with the nearly $80 million "Red Cliff," one of the most ambitious film projects ever undertaken in China. His career with Hong Kong directing legend John Woo stretches back in Hollywood to "Hard Target" (1993). With "Red Cliff," the duo comes back to Asia to tackle a third century battle epic central to Chinese lore. Pushing toward a July release of the first of three segments of the Mandarin-language film, Chang already is on to his next work, landing tirelessly at Asia's biggest film festival this week with "The Wooden Men of Shaolin Temple" in the Pusan Promotion Project. He spoke to The Hollywood Reporter Asia Editor Jonathan Landreth about challenges, disappointments and Korean partners.

The Hollywood Reporter: Where are you with "Red Cliff"?
Terence Chang: We're going to finish by end-November, about four hours outside Beijing. It's been extremely challenging, the most difficult film I've ever done, because it's the first time I'm doing an independent film and one from the ground up. I showed up in Beijing in July 2004 having never been there, not knowing anybody or anything but wanting to get this film going because John said this was his dream project, one he wanted to do for a long, long time.

THR: Is Woo possessed by this film and the story?
Chang: We must have gone through 20 drafts of the script because it's such a famous story in Asia, not only in China, but also in Japan and Korea. In order to do this we had to be cautious in trying to be historically correct. A lot of scholars who will pick on this film.

THR: Historical accuracy aside, how about audience appeal?
Chang: The battle of the "Red Cliff" is the most exciting in the (third century) Three Kindoms saga, and it involves so many characters. We want to leave in all the important scenes that are familiar to Asian audiences and the major characters. We're making the film for a world audience who doesn't know the story. We're just taking the middle part of the story and hope to make a 2 1/2-hour version that's accessible to the international audience.

THR: What's the final budget at this stage?
Chang: I can only say south of $80 million, but I can't say the exact number, but it's more or less the same as the original plan.

THR: If you finish in November, when do you hope to release it?
Chang: We are going to release the first part in July in Asia, and the second part, and the combined 2 1/2-hour version will be released in December.

THR: What's it been like working with Showbox?
Chang: They've been great. With all the investors, I showed them the script and I asked them if they felt it needed a Korean actor in the film, and they said, "No, it's Chinese history." They've been very supportive of the film.

THR: Koreans are branching out into other markets. Is this a trend that will continue, and will you work with more Korean projects?
Chang: Korean films traditionally have relied on their local market and a few exports to Hong Kong and Japan, but they've come to a point that they realize that they have to expand. I am working on another Korean co-production, "Christmas Cargo," which has been in the works for a couple of years with Blue Storm and Cineclick. It's the story of a Korean medical doctor and an American army colonel who work together to save 100,000 lives during the Korean War. Because the film needs a battle scene in heavy snow set in North Korea, we're still working on a schedule, but we haven't cast it yet. We're also working on a unnamed project with Kim Ji-woon, but that's too early to talk about now.

THR: Tell us about the finance of "Red Cliff" from Standard Chartered in Hong Kong. How has that panned out?
Chang: They're great, but I don't know the deal details too much because in Hollywood I work exclusively on studio films, whereas this is my first independent film. I was approached by several banks all over the world, but I picked Standard Chartered because they are in Hong Kong and it's more convenient for me.

THR: What was the most memorable day of shooting, good or bad?
Chang: The first day of shooting, I got this e-mail in the afternoon from Chow Yun-fat's lawyer (his wife, Jasmine Chow) telling me that he was backing out. That was one of the most memorable days in my life.

THR: What was the dispute over and how did that all resolve itself?
Chang: There was no dispute. I agreed to everything, to every unreasonable demand that she -- not him -- asked for, except that I told her, "You know that the bond company would not approve your contract," so I came up with the idea of dividing all the terms into two separate agreements, one that I would show to the bond company, and one between just me and her.

THR: You were a producer on novice director Alexi Tan's wartime Shanghai picture "Blood Brothers." How has that film performed for you?
Chang: It performed well in China, but it's been very disappointing in Taiwan and Hong Kong, extremely disappointing. But we just came back from Venice, where it was the closing film and was extremely well-received. I think a lot of foreign people really appreciated the film.

THR: What are you goals for Pusan?
Chang: I have three purposes at Pusan. One of my projects is in PPP, and I have to attend; then "Blood Brothers" is showing in the festival, and, third, I am on some kind of panel.

THR: Which project is in the Pusan Promotion Plan?
Chang: We don't have a proper English title yet, but it will translate loosely as "Wooden Man Alley." We're taking traditional characters from a classical Chinese martial arts story and putting them in a contemporary setting. It's a martial arts film about kids meeting online through their video game characters, then meeting again in person in a tournament where their true personalities come out.

THR: Gaming's a huge phenomenon in Asia and China in particular. Is this film written by a gamer?
Chang: He's a gamer, but he's also a brilliant young writer called Benny Lau. He used to be DJ and wrote a lot of radio plays. He's also very knowledgeable about Korean cinema. About 10 years ago he was the first person to introduce Korean culture and cinema and songs to Hong Kong.

THR: Pusan is big for Asia, but it's sandwiched in right before the American Flim Market. What purpose does it serve in the world film community?
Chang: I think it's a great festival, unlike any other. There's the PPP, which is great. A lot of people I've met here in Pusan have generated a lot of great ideas. All the directors I've just mentioned are with people I met in Pusan.

THR: Are there other projects at PPP you might be interested in?
Chang: I've been too busy with "Red Cliff." I don't know what other projects are there (laughs).
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