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Movie Review: Red Cliff

Posted by representingpuroresu on 04/11/2010

For my latest movie review covering titles I’ve picked up from the Far East, I’m briefly moving the focus from Japan a little west to China (and in the future I’ll be incorporating some martial arts cinema from Hong Kong in as well). If you’ve played certain video games over the last 20+ years, namely older titles like “Romance Of The 3 Kingdoms” or more recently any of the “Dynasty Warriors” series, or studied up on your ancient history, you may be familiar with the feudal dynasties of ancient China-specifically the time period of the Han Dynasty from roughly the year 175 to around the year 210. The time near the end of the Han is the focus of one of popular director John Woo’s latest films, and this one is truly being billed as an epic. Does it live up to the hype? Click below for my capsule review of Woo’s latest epic-Red Cliff.

Note: There are 2 versions of this film: A US theatrical version and an unrated original international version. This review is based on the unrated original international version.

Part of the Magnolia/Magnet “6 Shooter Film Series”, Red Cliff is based on a legendary battle in the year 208 that heralded the end of the Han Dynasty in ancient China. There have been ongoing wars for control of the land between the main clans in the area-Wu, Shu & Wei. Cao Cao (pronounced cow cow), Prime Minister-turned-General and power-hungry, seeks per mission from the Han Dynasty Emperor to organize a mission to take out the two regional warlords standing in his way-Liu Bei (Lee-oo Bay) and Sun Quan (Soon Kwan). While Cao Cao has a huge advantage in manpower, Liu Bei & Sun Quan have their own aces in the hole-the brilliant strategist Zhu-ge Liang and several veteran battle-hardened warriors. The warlords band together to mount a heroic campaign-unrivaled in history-that changes the face of China forever.

Considering the hype on the package, all I can say is it definitely lives up to it. The film starts out running with some amazing battle sequences and intriguing storylines, then slows down and strikes a nice balance between all-out battles and wartime strategy and some clever military stuff that is really something. If you’re played Dynasty Warriors you may recognize several characters here, at least in name-in addition to the main characters I recognized roughly 10-12 from the game and they even incorporate some of the more prominent female characters as well, including the beautiful & loyal Xiao Qiao and the young but confident Sun Shang Xiang-although those who played the game will note she doesn’t sport the bladed disc-like weapons from the game here. The over-the-top special effects are kept to a minimum in favor of amazing photography and choreographed movement and battle sequences that are really a treat for the eyes. The first part is only half of the story but there’s almost nothing to not like here. And it seems to save plenty for the second half of the story. Part 2 focuses more on the strategy of war, with both sides employing interesting strategies to try and outwit the other. The pace seems slow but it all builds up to an amazing and ultimately satisfying conclusion.

In the end, despite some very minor complaints I can’t say enough about this. It’s a filmmaking masterpiece on so many levels-brilliantly written, produced, directed and acted with a wonderful soundtrack as well. I’ve never really been into John Woo’s works, but this one is a definite exception. One of the greatest film works I have ever seen. If you’re a fan of the videogames, ancient history, or war movies, you owe it to yourself to find this title. 5+ hours extremely well spent. Actually, see it either way just because it’s that good.

“Red Cliff” stars Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei, Hu Jin, Shidou Nakamura & Chiling Lin. Directed by John Woo. Originally released in 2008 (Part 1) & 2009 (Part 2) in China by Three Kingdoms, Ltd. US version released in 2010 by Magnolia Home Entertainment. 288 minutes (total running time, part 1 is 145 minutes, part 2 is 143 minutes). In Mandarin with English & Spanish subtitles. Not rated. Contains sequences of epic warfare, graphic violence and a brief scene of sensuality. Although the material in the unrated version is different from the theatrical version, which is rated R for sequenecs of epic warfare,  I think it would still be an R.

Rating (1-10): 9.5 (Outstanding).

Recommendation: Must-buy.

Part 1 DVD extras: 28 minute behind-the-scenes/making of featurette, 4 minute interview with director John Woo, Storyboards (nearly 100!)

Part 2 DVD extras: A second making of featurette (25 minutes), TV special “HDNet: A look at Red Cliff”

Available in US on DVD.

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