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Disaster of Red Cliff

Part I of The Battle of Red Cliff is coming out in theatres here on Wednesday, the culmination of, from what I hear, has been the most extended and expensive game of grab-ass in Chinese movie history.

When I first went to see the set with the American special effects team back in December of 2006, we took a van down to Yi Xian, three hours south of Beijing, to look at three of the biggest projects requiring special effects.  One was a shallow rocky creek, which the construction department proposed to dig out to a wide rushing river, over which the special effects crew would build a bridge which was supposed to shake and collapse, and be able to reset for several takes.  Another was a full village on the side of a hill by a river which would be required to burn over and over again.  Last was two wooden ships which, in addition to listing mechanically side to side, were also required to burn over and over again.

We didn't discuss the bridge effect very much that day because it wasn't clear exactly how they planned to dig out the river and whether or not the riverbase would even support construction of such a bridge.  But the obvious solution for the other two effects was to lay gas piping and buy a whole lot of petrol.  For the burning village, the challenge would be to find someone who could manufacture the piping, and to figure out how to store and supply the set with such an absurd amount of fuel.  For the ships, the immediate challenge lay in the fact that the construction crew had already begun to fix the outer planking over the metal skeleton, and the special effects team had intended to plumb it up with gas pipes before they covered it up with wood.

I decided that day that I didn't quite have the energy to deal with what was quickly going to turn into a prolonged shit-fight, let alone living in Yi Xian with nothing to entertain us except for trips to the local hair salon, so that was my last day with the Red Cliff crew.  Since then, I've heard some stories that make me thankful that I got out when I did.

Not surprisingly, the American special effects team also left the project.  I read that it was because their estimate of the cost to plumb the village with gas pipes was too high, although I wouldn't be surprised if they intentionally gave a quote they knew would be too high just as an excuse to quit the movie and hurry on back to their American beachhouses.  They were replaced by a Korean team who had a much more simple solution:  douse the whole set and let it burn!  As the story goes, a minute after they tossed the match and set the village up in flames, it occurred to someone in the production crew to inquire how they intended to douse the blaze.  Put the fire out?  That's not our job, said the special effects crew.  We set fires, we don't put them out!  The fire continued to spread to surrounding areas and grow out of control until finally emergency teams from a remote military film studio were able to arrive and control the blaze.

As for the ships, news reports came out early last month of a fatality when two prop ships collided, exploding unexpectedly in a massive ball of flame.  One stuntman was killed and six others were injured.  This news comes only a month before the movie's release in theaters.  Either that scene will appear later once Part II is released, or we can expect some surprisingly realistic-looking stunts in Part I.

Red Cliff and Vista, partners in crime
One last juicy tidbit I heard was that one scene from the movie called for a tiger, along of course with a tiger trainer.  However, this was apparently difficult to come by on a moment's notice, so they made a tiger suit and put a stunt man in it.  I hear it did not look very much like a tiger.

On a related note, in celebration of this craptacular release, Amoi has also announced the sale of its own Battle of Red Cliff cell phones.  Features include:

  • Windows Vista

  • Accidentally explodes on contact, brutally maiming you for life

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