Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Totoro's Review of... Red Cliff (2008/2009)

For anyone who knows me, I am a sucker for a well-told cinematic story. And having been a follower of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms saga since my high-school years, I was always wondering when someone would get around to making a film set in this period in Chinese history. So, you can imagine my thrill when it was announced that Hong Kong auteur John Woo (Face/Off) was to write, produce and direct a historical drama centered around The Battle of Chibi (a.k.a. The Battle of Red Cliffs), a pivotal event which led into the Three Kingdoms Period.

I had lost track of this film during the development process, and I had heard it was released to mostly positive reviews two years ago, with even some bootleg copies of the two-part film (that's right... TWO PARTS) circulating around the 'Net. But, I patiently waited for the movie to receive its DVD treatment. And at long last, that day has FINALLY arrived.

Note: This review is based from the International release of the film, which has Parts I and II included.

Note: The trailer for this film can be found

The Story
It is 2nd-century China, during the Eastern Han Dynasty. Cao Cao, the ambitious Chancellor to the weak Emperor Xian, embarks on a campaign to eliminate two warlords in Southern China – Liu Bei & Sun Quan – with the Emperor's approval. What follows is a saga so epic that only The Lord of the Rings can match it in scale.

The Review
The film boasts a talented cast of Asian actors, in particular Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (Hard Boiled) as Sun Quan's Viceroy Zhou Yu, Zhang Fengyi (Farewell My Concubine) as Cao Cao & Takeshi Kaneshiro (House of Flying Daggers) as legendary strategist Zhuge Liang (which incidentally is my brother's favorite Three Kingdoms character.)

Whatever skepticism I had with John Woo directing a film of this scale were put to rest almost immediately after the film's opening scene. This film clearly marks a return of John Woo to the top of his form as a director and storyteller, with his experiences from Hong Kong and Hollywood serving him well here (especially with his deft use of CGI FX.)

With regard to the film's pacing, the dialogue scenes in the film are very good for a film of this scale, with seemingly throwaway lines foreshadowing major events later in the film. The result is a narrative is filled with a tenseness that does not abate until the final act (call me biased, but I was most entertained by Kaneshiro's portrayal of Zhuge Liang.)

Despite the excellent quality of the dialogue scenes, it is in the action sequences where this film truly shines, in particular the pivotal Battle of Chibi itself. I already knew that John Woo could direct an action sequence, but he outdoes himself here. It is in these scenes (and their sheer scale) that the most obvious parallels can be drawn to The Lord of the Rings.

Another aspect to this film I really enjoyed was the haunting, epic score by Taro Iwashiro (Samurai X: The Motion Picture), which complemented the on-screen action almost as well as Howard Shore's efforts did for The Lord of the Rings.

The Verdict
I will let the fact that I have re-watched this film at three times already speak for itself. If you are a John Woo fan, a fan of historical dramas or a fan of epic movies in general, then pick up this film. You WILL NOT be disappointed.

Until next time,
Totoro (Otaku 5-0 Executive Producer)

1 comment:


Who You Gonna Call
Tel 44-(0)208-323 8013
Fax 44-(0)208 323 8080

Hi Totoro,

On behalf of Magnolia Pictures and the movie’s producers, many thanks for plugging "Red Cliff" ... .. thanks also, on behalf of the distributors and producers, for not posting any pirate copies or non-trailer clips of “Red Cliff” and if you / your readers want good quality, non-pirated, previews, then the official trailer for “Red Cliff” is available for fans and bloggers to post/ host / share etc at http://www.apple.com/trailers/magnolia/redcliff/ ... .. for further details of on-line promotions for this movie and Magnolia releases generally, check-out www.magpictures.com and their official YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/MagnoliaPictures .

Thanks again for your plug.