John Woo boosts Chinese film abroad

'Red Cliff' director set out to rise above historical barriers

Related: Magnet attracted to 'Red Cliff'

SYDNEY -- Hollywood director John Woo has returned to his roots to bring a traditional Chinese story to the big screen, and hopes this will garner new interest for Chinese films globally.

Woo, well known for his choreographed action movies like "Mission: Impossible II," said "Red Cliff" aims to convince young Chinese that movies don't need a Hollywood stamp to be good and to prove the merits of Chinese films to Western audiences.

"Red Cliff," the most expensive Asian-financed movie made with an $80 million budget, is about the ancient Chinese battle of that name. It is Woo's first Chinese-language film since the 1992 thriller "Hard-Boiled" and his first U.S. release in six years.

Woo said the scale of the movie made it an epic with action and romance akin to "Troy," "Gladiator" or even "Lawrence of Arabia" that should appeal to an international audience.

"I wanted to prove that in China we have the ability and the talent to make big movies like Hollywood but adding something that's never been seen before," Woo told Reuters on the sidelines of the 56th Sydney Film Festival, where "Red Cliff" is screening.

"I wanted to make a movie that would appeal to people all over the world, that would bring people together because even though we come from different cultures, we have a lot in common."

Woo, 63, who has directed more than 26 films, is well known for his Hollywood movies such as "Face/Off" and "Broken Arrow." He is renowned in Asia for gangster dramas and action movies including "The Killer" and "A Better Tomorrow."

But Woo said he has struggled over the years to unite his two audiences, so with "Red Cliff" he set out to make a movie that rose above cultural and historical barriers.

However, the movie has had different versions released in Asia and elsewhere.

In Asia, the film was released in two parts, totally four hours in length, but for Western markets Woo cut the subtitled movie back to a single film running for 2 1/2 hours.

"This was hard to do, but trimming the movie has not changed the story or the spirit of the movie at all," said Woo. "But I would not do it that way again. It was too hard."

Woo said financing the film, despite its high price tag, had been easy and the movie had already made a good profit.

His own production company, Lion Rock Prods., was joined by China Film Group Corp, Taiwan's CMC Entertainment, Japan's Avex Entertainment, China's Chengtian Entertainment and Korea's Showbox.

"Everybody loves the story and most people in Asia have read the book ("Romance of the Three Kingdoms") on which it is based. They also had a lot of confidence in me," he said.

The film is set in the year 208 in the dying days of the Han dynasty, culminating in the battle of Red Cliff in which 2,000 ships were burned.

Woo said the movie had been a hit in Asia, breaking boxoffice records in Japan and China where the film market is growing strongly but badly needs international exposure.

Woo said he wanted to make more Chinese movies though he also had some projects under way in Hollywood.

"No matter the movie, people will see the John Woo touches. When they see a single white dove flying, they will get excited," he said.
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