I don’t know about you guys, but I had all but written off John Woo
. Those are strong words coming from someone like me, a devoted follower of Chinese action films and long-time fan of Woo
in particular. I suppose “Mission Impossible II”
left a nasty taste in my mouth and “Paycheck”
....well, don’t even get me started. But, as it turns out, all he had to do was go back to China to make another film to fully realize the potential I always knew he had to make his frelling masterpiece. And that’s definitely what “Red Cliff”
is. A full-blown, kick-ass, massive end-all and be-all of the war film genre. It is, to put it in Cyrus
parlance, full of fuck yes.
Originally released as two films totaling over four hours, for occidental audiences it was shortened to one 2 1/2 hour film that is already so stuffed to the gills with epic war awesomeness, I’m almost scared to go back and watch the full version. But let me tell you, I will. Not today, not tomorrow, but soon. There’s a reason this sucker broke Asian box office records. It’s also the most expensive Asian-financed film and you can see every damn penny. In fact, I’m flabbergasted they managed to make it for as little as they did! One gets the feeling that it would be impossible to mount a feature this ambitious in America without a Cameron
based “Red Cliff”
on one of the most famous battles in Chinese history, the “Battle of Red Cliffs"
, a decisive battle that brought an end to the Han
dynasty and marked the second return to power of the Dark Side, as Han
’s children were put to the lightsaber. Oh wait...force of habit. "Red Cliff" doesn't have to have any space in it to be one of the greatest wars set to film (even though it did happen a long, long time ago in a land far, far away). This amazing conflict between the allied forces of two warlords in the south and the massive and theoretically unbeatable army of the Chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty is one that really happened. Woo
even used the actual historical record instead of the culturally popular romanticized retelling of it, “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”
, which until now I thought was just the longest running video game series that I always avoided playing. The fact that this all (more or less) happened doesn’t take a way from the drama one bit.
This sucker has an enormous cast and a pretty damn complicated story but suffice it to say, it’s good guys using their smarts, honor, and friendship to defeat the forces of evil despite incalculable odds. It’s impossible not to root for the likable heroes, played by Tony Leung
, Chang Chen
, and Takeshi Kaneshiro
. The actors combine their impressive fighting skills with the charisma they’re famous for and terrific performances to make a solid front line of white hats. The villainous Cao Cao
is played for realism rather than mustache twirling by Zhang Fengyi
, confident in his victory yet gradually becoming more stupefied by his defeats. Lastly, the woman who Leung
both crave, Xiao Qiao
, is played by the hauntingly beautiful Lin Ch-ling
whom Helen of Troy
doesn’t have a thing on.
But hell, you don’t watch an epic war film for the acting or the love story, you watch it for the ridiculously gigantic battle scenes and ooh boy, does “Red Cliff”
ever get that right. My only regret in seeing this movie is that I didn’t catch it in the theater. Not to put too fine a point on it, shit blows up REAL good. As impressive as some of the more hand-to-hand sequences are, due to the well-documented talents of the film’s stars, it’s some of the aerial views of the troop formations and watching the inventive battle strategies play out that’ll put stars in your eyes. Woo uses everything he knows to make these sequences pop, expounding on the art of war by showing us rather than explaining. And just wait till you get to the climactic fire attacks near the end...well, I don’t want to say too much. Just watch this on the biggest, nicest HD set with the most pumping surround sound you can find. Trust me.
Which brings me to this solid Blu-Ray release. The quality of both the sound and the image is going to drop your jaw. It’s the way a film like this should be seen (if you HAVE to watch it at home, that is). It’s nice that they took such care with the transfer for the American release and even added over three hours worth of making-of featurette and interviews. “Red Cliff”
is a movie that might be steeped too heavily in Chinese culture for some, but screw ‘em, there are many who are going to call it one of the greatest war films ever made. I'm one of those people. You owe it to yourself to not just check this bad boy out, but BUY
your own copy.
Click Here to Buy Red Cliff (Theatrical Version) [Blu-ray]