Mei Ah bringing 'Battle' to H.K.

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HONG KONG -- Hong Kong's Mei Ah Entertainment Group has made its most expensive acquisition to date, picking up the Hong Kong distribution rights to John Woo's two-part period epic "The Battle of Red Cliff." The cost of the acquisition, including marketing and distribution expenses, is about HK$30 million ($3.84 million).

The pickup comes on the heels of lead Chow Yun-Fat's abrupt departure from the project, but the company said the star's exit will not harm its market value.

"We think John Woo and the story are the only elements for our consideration, so if Chow Yun-Fat or anyone else resigns, we don't feel that would adversely affect the production," Mei Ah managing director Patrick Tong said.

Chow's exit from the production only days into shooting followed the exit of Tony Leung Chiu-wai, who quit the film earlier and was replaced by Takeshi Kaneshiro.

Tong is confident that "Red Cliff" will prove to be one of Hong Kong's highest boxoffice earners, and is targeting a local gross of HK$100 million-$120 million ($12.8 million-$15.4 million).

The first part of "Red Cliff" is set to be released in May or June 2008, while the second part has a projected release date of Christmas 2008. Tong does not believe that any possible shooting postponements will affect their release schedule.

"We are still in April, and the original tentative release date is mid-next year, so there is plenty of time. Any reasonable delay we would accept. I'm not saying that we'd postpone release, but around that period there are still plenty of holiday release windows," Tong said.

Mei Ah's acquisition follows the establishment of Big Media as their production subsidiary, leaving Mei Ah to focus on acquisition and distribution.

According to wire reports, Chow said he submitted a request to pull out through his lawyers Friday. The reason cited was that he was given the script only a week before shooting began and, with a role that required him to speak Putonghua and engage in horseback riding, he did not have enough time to prepare.

The filmmakers, however, told a different story, saying that they couldn't work with Chow because he made unreasonable demands.

It was unclear what those demands were but, according to Woo's business partner/producer Terence Chang, the movie's bond company CineFinance opposed 73 clauses in Chow's contract.

China Film Group publicist Wen Wengli confirmed Chang's remarks.

Chang added that Chow was sent a copy of the script last year and the version he got a week ago was a revision incorporating his suggested changes.

The producer said Chow was promised $5 million for the movie, plus royalties from boxoffice returns, adding that this was fair treatment.

Chow said he took a pay cut and agreed to be paid in installments. However, he acknowledged that he used a Hollywood-style contract.

"My contract is indeed based on contracts I use for Hollywood movies in America. Maybe everyone hasn't gotten used to Hollywood contracts because so many investors are involved," Chow said in a statement.

Chow's replacement has yet to be announced, but more news was expected later this week.

An executive at South Korea's Showbox said they received the news of Chow's departure and were talking internally. The company had no further comment. Calls to China Film Group and the Beijing office of Chengtian Entertainment were unreturned by press time.

Jonathan Landreth in Beijing, Mark Russell in Seoul and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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