Chinese epic loses the plot as actors quit £40m project
Friday April 20, 2007
It is a film with as many twists and turns as any thriller. But the plot of The Battle of Red Cliff, John Woo's multimillion-dollar Chinese epic, started to unravel as soon as the director snapped shut his clapperboard.
Woo, making an eagerly awaited return to Chinese film after a stint in Hollywood, lost his two leading men in the space of a couple of days this week, only for one to return, but in a different role.Tony Leung Chiu-wai, who won best actor at Cannes in 2000 for In the Mood of Love, was the first to go, saying Red Cliff came too soon after completion of his most recent film, Ang Lee's Lust, Caution. Then his co-star, Chow Yun-fat, stormed off the set in a rage after complaining that he had been sent the script too late and had not been given enough time to prepare.
The casting nightmare has proved a huge embarrassment to Woo, who had hoped to use the $80m (£40m) Red Cliff to showcase his talents after directing, among other Hollywood films, Mission: Impossible II.
If that wasn't enough, he is under pressure from the Chinese government to ensure the new film, based on an epic Chinese battle in 208AD, is released before next summer's Olympics in Beijing.
Leung has reportedly agreed to return to help out his old friend, but is expected the fill the role of General Zhou Yu vacated by Chow. Leung's original role, as the military strategist Zhuge Liang, will be played by the Taiwanese-Japanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro, reports said.
"[Leung] and John Woo go back more than 20 years. When a situation like this happens, he's willing to help out," Wen Wengli, a publicist for China Film Group, which has invested in the film, told the Associated Press. Woo is credited with giving Chow's career an early boost when he cast him in the 1986 Hong Kong gangster film A Better Tomorrow.
In a statement issued after his walkout, Chow said the script posed additional problems because it was in Mandarin and not his native Cantonese. "I only received the script a week ago. I honestly don't have confidence I can portray my character well," he said.
Chow's decision has caused consternation among Woo's production team. They insist that the actor received his script last year and that they had parted company because of his unreasonable demands, although they did not give details.
Woo's business partner, Terence Chang, told the Chinese news website Sina.com that the film's Hollywood insurer had rejected more than 70 clauses in Chow's contract. "There are too many [demands], and many exceeded industry standards," Chang said, adding that Chow had been promised $5m for the film in addition to royalties. "We didn't mistreat him," he said. Wen said the film, in production for less than a week, would be completed in six months and released next year as planned.