At lunch in Rome yesterday, Variety's Justin Chang and I were decrying how much John Woo's masterful two-part historic epic Red Cliff, which was a huge hit in Asia, was largely overlooked by stateside press and audiences. (My favorite film last year, I included it in my top ten of the decade as well.)
Often, foreign-language action/art films are tweeners: too bloody for the refined older art-house crowd and too arty for the genre fans who would appreciate their action pyrotechnics. (Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth and Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are rare cases of movies that worked for both.) One of the events that I am most looking forward to at the Venice Film Festival is Woo accepting the Golden Lion Life Achievement Award Friday night. He so deserves it, from his hugely influential Hong Kong action flicks A Better Tomorrow and Hardboiled, which made Chow Yun-Fat into a star, to Hollywood's Face-Off and Mission: Impossible II and beyond.
UPDATE: Woo will world premiere his next, Reign of Assassins, at Venice (co-directed with Chao-Bin Su and starring Michelle Yeoh), which has been picked up stateside by The Weinstein Co. Also screening in Venice is a restored print of The Killer and the 2010 remake of A Better Tomorrow by Korean director Hae-sung Song. Variety's Chang profiles Woo, as does THR's Jonathan Landreth.
Lately, Woo and long-time producer Terence Chang have been raising funding for their big-budget epics in Asia and other foreign territories, including his next, the aerial adventure Flying Tigers (a rival film is has been long in development at New Regency) and carries a reported $90-million budget, which would outstrip Red Cliff as China's most expensive movie ever.
Woo and Chang are returning to China for the action epic, which will be co-financed by Hollywood and the China Film Group. They also plan to digitally remaster the film into IMAX, marking their first IMAX production. They are aiming--assuming that all the financing falls into place--for a spring 2011 start. The Flying Tigers were an American volunteer group who were later reincarnated as the joint American and Chinese 14th Air Force during World War II. Led by Air Force General Claire Chennault, the joint air force successfully fought in aerial combat against Japan.
“It has always been a dream of mine to explore shooting with IMAX cameras and to work in the IMAX format, and the strong visual element of this film is incredibly well-suited to the tastes of cinemagoers today,” stated Woo. “Using IMAX for Flying Tigers would create a new experience for the audience, and I think it would be another breakthrough for Chinese movies.”
"As China’s largest film development, production and distribution company," added China Film Group Chairman Han Sanping, "CFG has been involved with Terence Chang, John Woo and Flying Tigers since the earliest stages of its development. We expect this to be the most important film for China Film Group in 2011. The combination of John Woo, Terence Chang, China Film Group and IMAX will enable this film to attract the widest possible local audience, while also presenting the charm and diversity of Chinese films for fans around the globe."
UPDATE: According to Chang, the script is solid, but there are more deals to close on this project, and casting is still to come. Woo has said he would like Liam Neeson to star as Chennault, who was 50 when he led the Flying Tigers.