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  Publicity Stills of "Red Cliff"
(Courtesy from GV)

Director: John Woo
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Hu Jun, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei, Zhang Fengyi, Lin Chiling, Shidou Nakamura
RunTime: 2 hrs 20 mins
Released By: Scorpio East Pictures, MediaCorp Raintree Pictures & GV
Rating: PG

Opening Day: 11 July 2008


The story of RED CLIFF takes place in 208 AD in China during the Han Dynasty. Despite the presence of an emperor, Han Xiandi, China was then divided into many warring states.

The ambitious Prime Minister Cao Cao, by using the Emperor as his puppet, waged war on a kingdom in the west, Xu, ruled by the emperor’s uncle, Liu Bei. Cao Cao’s ultimate goal was to wipe out all the kingdoms and install himself as Emperor to a unified China. Liu Bei sent his military advisor Zhuge Liang as an envoy to the Wu Kingdom in the south, trying to persuade its ruler Sun Quan into joining forces. There he met Wu’s Viceroy Zhou Yu, and the two became friends amidst this uneasy alliance.

Enraged to learn that the two kingdoms have become allies, Cao Cao sent an army of eight hundred thousand soldiers and two thousand ships down south, hoping to kill two birds with one stone. Cao Cao’s army set up camp at Crow Forest, across the Yangtze River from Red Cliff, where the allies were stationed.

With the food supply running short, and the army vastly outnumbered by Cao Cao’s, the allies seemed doomed. Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang had to rely on their combined wisdom to turn the tide of battle. Numerous battles of wits and forces, on land and on water, eventually culminated into the most famous battle in Chinese history, where two thousand ships were burned, and the course of China’s history was changed forever. That was the Battle of Red Cliff.

Movie Review:

Red Cliff, the highly anticipated epic period flick marks the return of "bullets and guns" maestro John Woo back to making movies in the Asia region. Taking on a section of the well-loved novel, Romance of the Three Kingdom, this grand tale is being told in not one but two movies.

The decision to split this epic tale is an understandable one (although I hope it’s not a monetary reason) Against the criticism that Andy Lau’s recent version of The Three Kingdom had over done with the fast forwarding sequences of events that rushes to the eventual finale, Red Cliff took the other route and took it’s time in laying out the story.

On one hand, it allowed more build up in various characters and agenda while the rivaling sides prepare for the battle at Red Cliff. Taking it’s time to slow-boil the various elements such as the different reasons for battle, the reluctance to fight and the eventual change of mind.

However taking the time and effort doesn’t mean it will be compelling or engaging as Red Cliff succeeded in some parts and falter in others.

One of the distractions from enjoying this movie would be the casting choice and (largely to personal preference) some actors felt that they had been miscast, especially for the role of Cao Cao and Zhuge Liang. Although the respectable Zhang Fengyi was great in Farewell to my Concubine, it felt that he lacks the scheming and cunningness to pull off this role. The same with Takeshi Kaneshiro’s portrayal of Zhuge Liang which often invite stray thoughts of "What if Chow Yun Fatt had played this role or what if Tony Leung had not took over Zhou Yu’s role instead"

Beside the miscast, it felt that various characters had been mishandled. It’s obvious that Zhou Yu is the central character in Red Cliff and Zhang Fei, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei and Zhao Zilong are just supporting characters but this film made it felt that it was relegating these iconic characters to nothing more than mere capable fighters at Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang’s disposal. In a way, it felt that it took away some of the majestic aura that these few characters had long established in our mind.

Several situations that compel the various characters to act also didn’t felt that compelling at all. Such as Sun Quan (Chang Cheng)’s reluctant and dilemma in going to war with Cao Cao felt very naively handled. Especially in a scene when Sun Quan had to face his fears in the form of a tiger and the filmmakers chose to impose Cao Cao’s face over the beast to force the point down the audience throat. The fight with the tiger was also unimpressive in the age of spectacular special effects and the lack of scenes between the actor and the tiger in the same shot stood out as a sore thumb.

What Red Cliff succeeded was breathing new life to Zhou Yu’s character who is known to be a petty General who was jealous of Zhuge Liang’s capabilities. Tony Leung and Director John Woo had came together to paint a more endearing aspect for Zhou Yu. From his appreciation of music to how he leaded the first major battle in this epic was rather intriguing and impressive to someone who is unaware of his role in The Three Kingdom.

Fans of John Woo will be also be please to find that the director’s trademark “Slow Mo” action sequences and ballistic ballet with bullets had been proficiently replaced with horse ridding sequences and weapons such as spears and swords. Even the ever present white doves serve a more useful function besides its usual running away from gunfights in director John Woo’s movies.

It’s not technically possible in giving a fair assessment to Red Cliff with just the first part. The problem with movies that are told in two parts would be that it’s hard to judge what would be the fruition of events and characters. Witnessing the set up of events and characters could be tedious and unrewarding. However for the first part, it doesn’t really strike a strong chord with what it was trying to do (such as brotherhood and strategies) basically it gives a very weak start for the epic.

Movie Rating:

(An average prologue that isn’t that enticing for the subsequent part 2)

Review by Richard Lim Jr


. Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (2008)

. An Empress And The Warriors (2008)

. The Warlords (2007)

. The Curse of the Golden Flowers (2006)

. A Battle of Wits (2006)

. Seven Swords (2005)

. The Myth (2005)

. House of Flying Daggers (2004)

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