'Warlords' pillages Chinese b.o. for $1.6 mil

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HONG KONG -- "The Warlords," Hong Kong director Peter Chan's $40 million period war epic, opened across China on Thursday earning a quick 12 million yuan ($1.6 million), producers Applause Pictures and Media Asia said.

The film, starring martial arts superstar Jet Li, Hong Kong actor-singer Andy Lau and Taiwanese-Japanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro, also earned HK1.67 million ($200,000) in its Hong Kong premiere, the Hong Kong Motion Picture Industry Assn. said.

A China-wide sneak preview Wednesday of the film about men torn between country and brotherhood in 1870s China played on a record 1,027 screens and took in 10 million yuan ($1.36 million) in its first six hours.

The film is expected to earn more than 100 million yuan ($13.6 million) million over the weekend, distributor Poly Bona CEO Yu Dong told the Xinhua news agency.

Earlier this week, Chan said he hoped the film about political upheaval in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) would earn 250 million yuan ($33.9 million) in China.

Local critics have lauded the film for its realistic portrayal of war, and as welcome departure from the glitter and gravity-defying antics in recent Chinese blockbusters such as "Curse of the Golden Flower" and "The Promise."

The success of "The Warlords" could up the stakes for director John Woo's "Red Cliff," a similarly themed war epic based on the 14th century Chinese classic novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms." With a budget of $80 million, Woo's first film in China, is the most expensive Asian film ever made.

"Cliff" has seen its fair share of natural and manmade disasters, ranging from casting disputes to storm-wrecked sets. But the "Red Cliff" camp sees the boxoffice triumph of "The Warlords" as a positive sign.

"It is indicative of a flourishing market," said Patrick Tong of Mei Ah Entertainment Group, Hong Kong distributor of "Red Cliff." "Everyone's happy that 'The Warlords' is doing well. It means Chinese films in general are on the rise."

"Red Cliff" will be released in two parts in Asia, the first tentatively scheduled for July 2008 in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and for August in Japan.
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