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11 July 2008, 3pm at the Swissotel Hotel + 7pm at the NLB, The Pod

It took John Woo two decades to bring the story of Red Cliff to the silver screen. Owing to lack of funds, technology back then, the most famous battle in Chinese history can only be realized for the first time with a budget of US$80 million and a grueling eight months shoot in China.

Director John Woo, Chang Chen, Zhang Fengyi and Lin Chiling were in high spirits as they share their experiences in making the movie with the media during the Singapore press conference which was held at the 69th floor of the renowned Swissotel Hotel.

Veteran mainland actor Zhang Fengyi was quick to denounce the fact that he wasn’t half-retire as rumoured by the media, he is just waiting for the right script to come along. Playing the villainous Cao Cao, he patiently explained that Woo wanted him to play and show to the audience a more humane side of Cao rather than a teething, stereotypical bad guy.

Arthouse favourite Chang Chen was more than excited to be part of Red Cliff and he credits Woo for being a very fatherly director and one that respect everyone of his cast and crew members. Of course, touted the most beautiful woman in Taiwan, model Lin Chiling marks her debut here as an actress playing Xiao Qiao, the wife of Zhou Yu, Tony Leung’s character. Heavily criticized by the media and netizens when she was first cast, Lin felt especially stressed and lack the confidence to portray her role. Encouraged by fellow cast member such as Zhang and director Woo, she slowly immersed in her role as time goes. When prompted whether her role will be expanded in part two of the concluding Red Cliff saga, Woo immediately says yes. You as an audience can judge for Chiling’s acting skills when the movie opens.

The Asian audience has the luxury to watch the full Red Cliff saga which will be shown in two parts (the second half will be shown tentatively next Chinese New Year) unlike the Western audience who will only get to watch a condensed version next year. Woo sheepishly explained that it’s the American distributor who wanted a shorter version, one that has less subplots and characters. Most of the Asian audience is more or less familiar with the history of Three Kingdoms epic, whereas our western counterparts will be totally lost by the end of the subtitled 140 minutes duration given the wide array of similarly sound characters such as Zhou Yu, Zhao Yun.

Woo has a bigger mission in mind when he brought the filming of Red Cliff to China. He wanted the younger generation to be exposed to the foreign ways of filmmaking and vice versa. It’s a chance for everyone to get to know each other for example how the CG team works. And also it gave the opportunity to showcase the rich Oriental cultural aspects of the Chinese, something which the Western don’t really know of.

Gunshots and fights are aplenty in John Woo’s movies, the man himself finds that gun-wielding is very similar in style to sword-wielding which explains why he don’t find any difficulties in creating the battle fights in Red Cliff. Woo even divulge a trivia fact that he can’t drive and has never fire a gun before to the amusement of the audience. The quiet man also pays subtle tributes to his wife who was also present at the venue through the characters, Zhou Yu and Xiao Qiao in the movie.

Classical music is a good way to calm your nerves and gives inspiration when it comes to filmmaking for Woo. The man has all along wanted to make a romance drama but according to him, no one actually believes he can pull it off. Hollywood is a place whereby once when the script and budget are set, further changes are very unlikely and to make matters worse, the studio will determine you as a certain genre director if your movie is a success at the box-office. Woo has made several successful high octane action blockbusters such as Broken Arrow and Face/Off, he lament it’s not possible for him to venture into romance dramas even if he offer to do it for free. But Woo has finally realized his dream, he has secured financing for his next movie, tentatively named “1949”, a US$40 million romance drama set at the end of WWII and the final years of the Chinese Civil War starring Chang Chen.

If “unifying” is a theme for the movie Red Cliff, then it gives deeper meaning to the international cast and crew members. With his years of accumulated experience working both in the Hong Kong and later on in his career, the Hollywood film industry, Woo has vowed not to easily give his career up despite a tragic death of a stuntman on the set of Red Cliff. The audience should see more from the man whose favourites themes on brotherhood and chivalry in the years to come.

(The above are excerpts from the press conference and majority of them derives from the John Woo’s talk at the NLB)

“Red Cliff ” opens on 11 July and is reviewed here.

Selected Video Clips from the John Woo’s talk at the NLB courtesy of Stefan Shih (a MX regular who also runs his own blog, anutshellreview):

Report: Linus Tee | Photos: Richard Lim Jr | Video: Stefan Shih
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