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Genre: War/Action/Drama
Starring: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Hu Jun, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei, Zhang Fengyi, Lin Chiling, Shidou Nakamura, You Yong, Hou Yong
Director: John Woo
Rating: NC-16 (Some Scenes of Intimacy)
Year Made: 2008







Languages: Chinese
Subtitles: English/Chinese
Aspect Ratio: -
Sound: -
Running Time: 2 hrs 20 mins
Region Code: 3
Distributor: Scorpio East




In 208 A.D., the final days of the Han Dynasty, shrewd Prime Minster Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi) convinced the fickle Emperor Han the only way to unite China was to declare war on the kingdoms of Xu (You Yong) in the west, and East Wu (Chang Chen) in the south. Thus began a military campaign of unprecedented scale, led by the Prime Minister, causing the two kingdoms to form an alliance. Numerous battles ensued on land and water, eventually culminating in the battle of Red Cliff...


Director John Woo and his team of screenwriters co-wrote this movie adaptation of "Red Cliff" based on historical accounts rather than the widely known novella version of it. While it’s true that Woo and company did some creative changes to the various characters and happenings, it’s clearly an epic every movie-goer should attempt to watch.

Citing that Liu Bei is a threat to the Emperor, the movie opens with Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi) attempting to capture the latter. Within minutes, we are introduced to Liu Bei, his advisor Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro), Zhao Yun (Hu Jun), Zhang Fei and Guan Yu leading the civilians to safety, simultaneously holding back Cao Cao’s armies.

Following the battle, Zhuge Liang proposed a diplomatic mission to negotiate an alliance with Sun Quan (Chang Chen), the young ruler of Wu. The Commander in charge of Wu’s army is none other than Zhou Yu (Tony Leung). Together, the two alliances come to an agreement to fight off Cao Cao who is in the meantime on his way with his naval and land troops to ignite the Battle of Red Cliff.

With a runtime of 2 hours 20 minutes, Woo took his time to slowly let the audience engaged themselves in the company of Zhou Yu, Zhuge Liang and their bunch of merry men. Various characters pop in and out of the screen every now and then and most of the deemed central characters like Liu Bei, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu are left to the sideline. These are obviously the negative aspects of how limited a big-screen adaptation can do to an epic story. In addition, there are questionable doubts as to why Liu Bei behaves more like a meek than a brave righteous warrior? And why does Guan Yu not resemble that Guan Yu we knew?

We can see that Woo has to sacrifice the above to dedicate more screentime to the friendship between Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu. Chivalry between brothers is a long incurring theme in Woo’s movies, "The Killer", "Hardboiled" are some of the fine examples. In "Red Cliff", to convey the unsaid emotions and bonding of the two renowned strategists, there is a zither segment that goes on so slowly that impatient viewers might find it wanting and unnecessary.

To portray the lovey-dovey relationship between Zhou Yu and his wife, Xiao Qiao (Lin Chi-ling), considerable screentime is also dedicated. Of course, for the uninitiated, the intimate scenes which were cut from the theatrical version are left intact on the DVD. Those expecting a Lust Caution redux will be duly disappointed though.

"Red Cliff" part one is an obvious setup to the grand battle which will present itself in the concluding episode. Those looking towards the much touted battle sequences can find solace in the first battle with Cao Cao’s cavalry which cleverly made use of the Eight Trigrams Formation. Combining visual effects from The Orphanage and shrewd choreography from Corey Yuen, the battle sequence will set your adrenalin pumping for more.

This review shall not touches on the casting choices as there are simply too many comments made about the cast by the media, netizens that in my opinion truly distracts one from enjoying the movie of this scale. All I can say is the final cast puts in respectable performances despite a certain Chow Yun Fat abruptly left the shoot that nearly stalled the US$80 million production.

As mentioned earlier in the review, flaws are indeed inevitable given the scale of this adaptation. One which I found particularly disturbing is the intentions of Cao Cao in the whole invasion. Given that Cao Cao is an ambitious, scheming tyrant, he is surprisingly portrayed as a man succumbed and mesmerized by Xiao Qiao’s beauty. Is it Woo’s aim to simplify the story and characters and tilt it more understandable to the Western? This, we can only conclude after watching the second half.

"Red Cliff" is set to a rousing score by Taro Iwashiro with Oscar-winner Tim Yip as the costumes designer. This is a lavish, grand epic movie which salvages not only Woo’s waning career in recent years but most notably, a classic tale that is exemplified on screen through sheer sincere, hard work by both the cast and crew. When the credits rolled after this first instalment has ended, you just can’t wait for the Battle of Red Cliff to unravel…


This Code 3 DVD does not contain any special features.


"Red Cliff" comes with an option of English and Chinese subtitles with a single Mandarin track however there’s no indication or availability of the sound system to select from. To conclude, the DVD’s audio and visual transfer is passable.



Review by Linus Tee



. Red Cliff (Movie Review)

Other titles from Scorpio East:

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. Lust Caution

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. High School Musical 2: Extended Edition

. Pixar Short Films Volume One

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. 2 Becomes 1

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. Dragon Eye Congee

. A Chinese Tall Story

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This review is made possible with the kind support from Scorpio East


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