Early box office returns look strong and reviews are mixed to positive for the most expensive independent Chinese production ever. John Woo's historical epic Red Cliff has opened in Asia, and Variety reports that it's off to "a smashing start," drawing big audiences on its first day of release in China (US$3.65 million), Hong Kong (US$257,500), and Taiwan ($526,000). Relative to their respective territories, those are very good numbers indeed -- it's the biggest opening day this year in Taiwan, for example.

South Korean distributor Showbox received permission from Woo to cut nine minutes from the film's 2 hour and 23 minute running time. This sounds idiotic to me, more like Showbox trying to flex their muscle, but Red Cliff still made an estimated $973,000 on opening day, more than double other Asian hits of recent years such as Hero and House of Flying Daggers.

Variety described Red Cliff reviews as "generally positive." Here are three English-language reviews I've found online: JoonAngDaily, The Associated Press, The Korea Times, The one from AP is entirely positive. More reactions can be found at China View. One friend of mine that's seen it says it's "good but not fantastic."

Red Cliff ends with what can only be described as a "cliffhanger": the decisive battle will be shown in the second part of the film, due for January release in Asia. All things considered, right about now I imagine Mr. Woo is relaxing in his editing suite, finishing up part two, and just smiling.