Red Cliff is based in part on the story from the Famous Novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. For years Red Cliff had been hinted at by John Woo as one of his projects that he would one day get around to filming. Finally things got exciting when it started to become a reality and with the casting of Tony Leung and Chow Yun Fat in the film it was a reunion between the three greats since they all last worked together on “Hard Boiled”. But things started going a bit awry when Fat pulled out followed later by Tony Leung. Woo seemed to be in some difficulties. But with Tony Leung’s return the film got back on track.
Red Cliff Part I basically sets up a lot of what is to come in preparation for Part II. It’s a big weakness of the first part but is required to tell the story and let characters and their motives be explained especially for those who are unfamiliar with the story and characters. The action in Part I is very much in the style of John Woo’s Film making, lots of stylish slow shots of action. I had hoped the battle might be a little bit more realistic and brutal like that of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. A little more action in Part I would be nice as it’s completely overshadowed by the the action in Part II. There are some pointless moments in the film near the end such as the sports scenes which I felt were inserted since the first part was released just before the 2008 Olympics.
Red Cliff Part II is a far better film. In Red Cliff Part II Woo lets lose on the action and battles. The attack with the fire ships is very impressive. The only downside is that it’s more noticeable CGI. I watched this on DVD so I can’t imagine how much more noticeable it is on the big screen. It’s a pity that Woo didn’t use some more experienced CGI artists for the task, perhaps from America. When Red Cliff is released in international theatres it will be two films cut into one. Which may make for a far more satisfying and faster meal for foreign audiences. I can see where a lot of things could be cut out for foreign audiences. Unnecessary moments and character relationships that add nothing to the story. It will be interesting to compare the two cuts later. I imagine a lot of Part II will go into the international cut. Fengyi Zhang plays Cao Cao. While Fengyi Zhang is a good actor I think the character needed an actor with a bit more international gravitas like Ken Watanabe or Chow Yun Fat to play him as he is a very interesting character. At one moment Xiao Qiao asks Cao Cao if he started this War only for her. Cao Cao doesn’t answer, while it’s evident that he is powerful and has killed many warlords he is swayed by an obsession for Xiao Qiao that can’t be matched. Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang are two intelligent tacticians, as the Heroes of the movie they are portrayed as the better half of the two opposing forces yet Cao Cao is more than a match for them. Watching the characters battle of wits as they predict each other’s moves is pretty riveting. The final battle with the fire ships is also highly entertaining in terms of battle tactics similar to those used in Naval wars throughout history. The final stand off between the characters is classic John Woo except swords are used instead of guns this time.
Fans of Tony Leung may notice he is dubbed in this movie which is a little distracting if you are familiar with his voice. On a side note I would have loved to have seen more of Guan Yu. The character doesn’t have a large part in this story but historically he is perhaps the most familiar character outside of Eastern culture. Known in China and Taiwan as the Symbol of Justice he is know in Western culture as the God Of War. You’ll often see statues of him in film and TV. He is even in Adama’s quarters on the Galactica. Red Cliff part two is one Woo’s best Movies in recent years and I hope he continues with more great pieces of Historical and modern cinematic action.
Favorite Quote: “We must fight even if we cannot win.” – Zhuge Liang