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Chinese epic directed by John Woo

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John Woo's Rendition of "Romance of Three Kingdoms" Part ONE!!

  • Feb 28, 2009
Rating:
+4

        Poster art for "Red Cliff."

In Asia, John Woo's costume epic is divided into two parts, one released in late 2008 and the second part currently playing in Asia this month. Seeing as this film is only part one of two, it is a little difficult to judge just how it would play out. John Woo returns to Asian filmmaking with his adaptation of the Chinese classic "Romance of Three Kingdoms" called "Red Cliff" (aka. "Battle of Red Cliff"). This film is a star-studded serving with some of Asia's top performers and it is a little more faithful to its source material than the recent "Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon". A little more faithful yes, but the film still has the usual John Woo stereotypes--exaggerated unrealistic action, eye-candy fight scenes, with the usual themes of brotherhood and friendship birthed from the fires of war.

208 A.D., The Battle of Chang Ban. Liu Bei (You Yong) narrowly escapes the siege by the forces of prime minister Cao Cao (Zhang Feng Yi) and this minister's lust for supreme power continues unabated. Strategist Zhuge Liang (Kaneshiro Takeshi, Returner) fears that Liu Bei and the Shu kingdom will not be able to withstand the armies of Cao Cao and proposes an alliance with the Kingdom of Wu. However, Sun Quan (Chang Chen) is reluctant to challenge Cao's ire. Zhuge Liang instead approaches the Wu Kingdom's chief strategist, Zhou Yu (Tony Leung, Lust Caution) to try to convince Sun Quan. Zhuge and Zhou are both kindred spirits and both are well-trained in the arts of war, they form a connection immediately. The two master strategists decide to engage Cao Cao at the water port of Red Cliff. This decision comes not a moment too soon, as Cao Cao is advancing with an army that vastly outnumbers the combined Wu and Shu forces. But Zhuge Liang is confident that his schemes and maneuvers can win them a victory.



The "Romance of Three Kingdoms" is a Chinese classic, its tales are told in TV dramas, novels, and even in video games (Koei's "Dynasty Warriors"). This high-budget Woo directed film has a lot of expectations going for it. "Red Cliff" is entertaining and solid, has awesome production values and the film is indeed a spectacle that is worth a look--notice I said it's worth a look, but NOT a film that is truly epic that overflows with grandeur. The film is good but it isn't as compelling as people hoped for. John Woo diverts the intricate complexities of its source material to his usual stereotyped themes and motifs, and in this way, he lessens the film's true significance. Woo isn't a complex storyteller, and definitely lacks realism in his execution. The director sidesteps the political importance and opts for a very positive view of brotherhood. The film does have a theme that most people can relate to and avoid a division of expectations, but it is a cheap way out. A film of this caliber should have a powerful historical context to be truly "epic" and become unforgettable. I wanted a political revelation of corruption, a bleak overview of war and the tragedies of the price of war; such as human lost and the cost of lives.

        Vicky Zhao Wei

Brotherhood--well, it is so overdone. War is portrayed as necessary and brings honor and glory. One may say that war is a vehicle to reach a pinnacle of manhood? Brave men meet brave men in the fields of combat. The film also has a similar scene with "Three Kingdoms" where Zhao Yun (aka. Zhao Zhilong in "Three Kingdoms") rescues the infant child of Liu Bei. In this film Woo shoots the film with his usual style, music, machismo-laden scorching gazes, extreme close-ups and slow-motion; it is almost as if Woo was trying to upstage the scene with Andy Lau in "Three Kingdoms".

I've read that John Woo said in an interview that he is basing this film in the historical records "Chronicle of Three Kingdoms" rather than the novel "Romance of Three Kingdoms" to give it more historical accuracy. I have a question; if the battles are "historically accurate", would a commander send his best warriors to massacre an already cornered enemy? There was a scene where the iconic characters came out of the ranks to fight cornered troops (The trap was very cool by the way), I rather thought that best warriors were saved for the most extreme situations--maybe it was to intimidate--or maybe to demonstrate the usual John Woo style fight scenes that look so overly choreographed and so exaggerated? It does serve to introduce the characters but the film also loses some credibility in historical accuracy. Still, the servings of action that highlights the rescue of Liu Bei's son, the Battle of Chang Ban, the nicely shot "battle formation" to overpower Cao's huge force does provide a lot of entertainment value and abundant "Woo style" action sequences. (you do know what I mean with the "Woo style" don't you?)

         tony leung

        A scene from the film "Red Cliff."

The action is usually in the first act and the last act, and I admit, they were fun to watch. The film does carry some rather insignificant scenes that felt like they were minor "fillers" to slow things down but I also appreciated the attempts in trying to respect the source material. Those unfamiliar with these characters will have no issues following the proceedings and those who played "Dynasty Warriors" will be taken to nostalgia lane. The execution of strategy by the iconic characters are also quite appealing and this element is what makes the film better than Daniel Lee's "Three Kingdoms".

The performances are quite good. Tony Leung and Takeshi Kitano, are rightfully cast, they display a lot of charisma and very firm in their performances. I was very impressed with model Lin Chi-Ling who carries most of the emotions, and Woo guides her thoroughly. Zhang Fengyi is all arrogance and pride as the tyrant Cao Cao, that viewers will no doubt feel some repulsion towards him. Hu Jun, Shido Nakamura, Vickie Zhao and the rest of the supporting cast did well in adding some interactions. The lush cinematography, gorgeous set designs and elaborate costumes does add some additional points. Oh, the doves that usually are in his films make an appearance, however insignificant--so John Woo fans will be thrilled.

The film is quite good, it does almost stop to a crawl midway in the film, but I rather enjoyed it with the second viewing. Two significant battles in more than two hours and cheesy characterizations, the film is a respectable outing but hardly epic, and lacks a certain feeling you get when you see a truly powerful epic motion picture. The film does prove a little too long and almost seemed to lack emotions, the complexities and meditations of war are exchanged for honorable brotherhood, while it does make an easy connection, it does not make it a truly compelling film. Perhaps this is a product of the fact that this is a two-part film, and I reserve final judgment until I see the second installment. I hope to see all my dissatisfactions fulfilled in the final chapter, one can pray that John Woo had save the best for last. I'm in for "Red Cliff 2"!

Recommended! [4- Stars]

Note: There has been assumptions that the two films will be edited into one 3 hour plus film in its U.S. release.

movie poster characters takeshi kaneshiro tony leung Chiling Lin Vicky Zhao Wei

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February 14
Great story and pictures too! The trailer is extremely well done too.
 
January 17, 2011
I really liked this
January 17, 2011
did you see the extended Asian two parter? Part 2 was awesome! 
 
April 16, 2010
I finally watched the "Theatrical" version of this movie on Blu-ray and really enjoyed it. This movie was such a massive undertaking that was quite a miracle that the movie was even completed. Did you see the "making of" extra feature they had on the Blu-ray version of the Theatrical version? It's totally ridiculous how many crazy and horrible things went wrong during the shoot... including buildings catching on fire, ships sinking, massive storms ruining the sets and ... being attacked by Tigers. If you see the the documentary, it gives a new appreciation for everyone involved in making this film a reality.
April 16, 2010
I haven't seen the U.S. theatrical version but I do own the Asian uncut release. I too was impressed with the commitment of the crew to go through all those hazards just to complete the movie. I wouldn't be surprised about the fire, part 2 was just so heavy was a scorcher! There was a missing vital scene in part 2 that never made it to the theatrical version I heard: the scene when they used straw men to get arrows.
 
February 21, 2010
After ONG-BAK 2 I've become a bit nervous about copies now. But I've never had that speed problem before and they certainly aren't going to skimp with a John Woo film. I've got too many films as it is. Maybe I'll hold off for a while.
February 21, 2010
Hold off on it. I'll see if I can find an all-region Chinese version (mine's region-3) and send you a double pack (I'll message you once I get the copies if you don't mind giving me your address) You don't mind watching two movies that are 5 or 6 hours right? You are used to Bollywood!
February 21, 2010
Oooohhh. I'll bet there isn't a lot of song and dance numbers in either part though. You might not get it back for a VERY long time because I'd probably want to see it all in more or less one big chunk and I'm not sure when I'd be up to that.
February 21, 2010
that's fine. I'll send you a copy as long as we get a review from the queen!
February 21, 2010
Uh, no review. You've already covered it in depth and I doubt that I would have anything at all to add. That much I know.
 
November 08, 2009
Like my boy Trashie, I grew up on the strategy game for the Nintendo and often wondered about the correlation with the cinematic endeavors. Great review bud. Is it safe to assume this is the slightly superior film incarnation of the tale?
November 09, 2009
Oh yes. John Woo is supposed to come out with a re-edited movie of both parts 1 and 2 together. You cannot watch one or the other by themselves, and I believe the RED CLIFF series will be released in U.S. shores by this month. check this out: http://www.lunch.com/reviews/RED_CLIFF_2-Reviews-1380401-1-1.html and at fandango: http://www.fandango.com/GlobalSearch.aspx?re...aters+Video&q=red+cliff
 
October 15, 2009
I saw it on DVD last year & thought it's a tad too long and more of a man's movie but since I'm a BIG fan of Kaneshiro, I managed to sit through it. It costs a mere RMB15 (US$2). I was just at the bookstore earlier & thought of getting the DVD for Part 2. Now, it's RMB45 which is like triple what Part 1 was! So, am going to wait it out for a month or two for it. I still have plenty of Korean Dramas to catch up on :-) Will check out your Part 2 review after I get the DVD!
October 16, 2009
Thank you for the comment, Sharrie. John Woo is supposed to re-edit both parts into one 3 hour movie...that would rule. The 2nd movie was awesome though!
 
March 04, 2009
T-man, the HK release is all-region and is available at hkflix.com
 
March 02, 2009
Karen, I do understand your reservations about this film. I just saw "Red Cliff 2" and you guessed it, a review is forthcoming! (which is why I also posted this review here) I will be writing the review tonight for part 2.
 
March 01, 2009
After reading your review I'm not sure about this one. I'm not exactly wowed by Woo's machismo. I'll probably wait to see the first until after I've heard opinions on the second. I'd really like to see a good treatment of this as well, but I'm just not up for an ain't war grand movie.
 
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Red Cliff (Chinese赤壁pinyinChìbì), also known as The Battle of Red Cliff, is a Chinese epic film based on the Battle of Red Cliffs and events during the end of the Han Dynasty and immediately prior to the period of the Three Kingdoms in ancient China. The film was directed byJohn Woo, and stars Tony Leung Chiu-WaiTakeshi KaneshiroZhang FengyiChang ChenHu JunLin Chi-ling and Zhao Wei.

Within Asia, Red Cliff was released in two parts, totaling over four hours in length. The first part was released in July 2008 and the second in January 2009.[1] Outside of Asia, a single 2½ hour film was released in 2009.[1] With an estimated budget of US$80 million, Red Cliff is the most expensive Asian-financed film to date.[2] The first part of the film grossed US$124 million in Asia[3] and broke the box office record previously held by Titanic in mainland China.


Director John Woo said in an interview with CCTV-6 that the film will use primarily the historical record Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms as a blueprint for the Battle of Red Cliffs, rather than the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. As such, traditionally vilified characters such as Cao Cao and Zhou Yu will be given a more historically accurate ...

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