Red Cliff (Chi Bi) Reviews
John Woo, after a string of less than stellar Hollywood films, decided to return to China, and, armed with one of his largest budgets ever, came out with this sweeping historical epic based on an epic battle that occurered during China's Three Kingdoms period, during the end of the Han Dynasty (208-209) CE (aka AD).
Being into history, yet not very familair with this particular event or section of history, I wasn't able to go into all out historian mode, instead having to spend a lot of time just sitting back and enjoying myself. And enjoy myself I did. This is a lavish, epic historical drama/war film. The action setpieces are well done, and cgi is used as a tool and not a crutch. The music and cinematography are wonderful, and there's some top notch set and costume designs.
My real issues here is with the story. I don't know why they felt the need to condense a two part film into a single volume that is the length of either individual part. Doing this makes for some jarring editing, confusing story transitions at times, and some jumbled chronology and character development. I would have been happy watching two separate and unjumbled parts, just like I did with Che and Mesrine.
This doesn't ruin things, but it does take away some of the impact, and it might not make things easier on audiences who aren't aware of the actual events and that sort of thing. I could follow things, yes, but still, they could have done a better job assembling this cut. At least the film isn't really dull, so that's good.
Since this is Woo, I don't need to get into too much detail about the action and violence. It's well done, awesome, and delivers the goods. Despite how this version handles it, the story is good and intriguing too. Seems very Shakespearean. The performances are good, and honestly, it was a little hard for me to decide which side to root for. Maybe that didn't matter so much since this isn't a depiction of events that really had any bearing on my own life, country, and history. Still though, it's good to have a side to root for once in a while.
All in all, a really decent film. I'd give it a far higher rating had I gotten to see the two individual parts, as opposed to this Frankensteined version, but I still think this is a solid enough effort to merit a Strong B to light B+.
Action master John Woo returns to his native China to direct an action epic capturing one of China's most famous historical war stories. The film is an amazing accomplishment in terms of how its action is captured in the way that Woo is known for as a filmmaker. All of the elements of his signature style are present here, and combining that with a good cast headlined by Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro, the film is a well made historical action epic.
In 208 A.D., in the final days of the Han Dynasty, shrewd Prime Minster Cao Cao convinced the fickle Emperor Han the only way to unite all of China was to declare war on the kingdoms of Xu in the west and East Wu in the south. Thus began a military campaign of unprecedented scale, led by the Prime Minister, himself. Left with no other hope for survival, the kingdoms of Xu and East Wu formed an unlikely alliance. The ruler of Wu, Sun Quan, calls on the rival warlord Liu Bei for help, but their two armies are still badly outnumbered. Numerous battles of strength and wit ensued, both on land and on water, eventually culminating in the battle of Red Cliff. During the battle, two thousand ships were burned, and the course of Chinese history was changed forever.
Now, in China this film was actually two movies, with a total running time of five hours. For the American release, the film has been streamlined into one film and down to two and a half hours, complete with narration to help ease audiences into the story much better known to the Chinese. To this, I have to give credit to the studio, as this movie flows very well, with a much leaner presentation of the story, with enough dramatic arc to make it very compelling, while still leaving in all the awesome action that John Woo is very adept at handling.
With all of the different characters interwoven into this story, I was taking my time in really getting into the film above an action standpoint, but once I did, this movie really took off. There are a lot of good actors present here, and many of them leave memorable impressions to keep you very interested in where this story will go.
Of course, the main draw is to see John Woo go all "John Woo" on the action scenes, and he freaking delivers. Use of slow motion, explosions, well handled sense of scale, appropriate mix of effects, dual wielded weapons, Mexican standoffs, awesome stylized, often balletic sequences of action; all of things are present, and yes Woo even fits in some doves for good measure. There is action all over this movie, with two main sequences, which includes the fantastically epic climatic battle that lasts a good half hour and took over a year to get prepared for during production.
The movie also manages to bring Woo's sense of melodrama concerning a couple characters, as well as his sense for overly-beautiful cinematography to keep the tone straight for his type of films. Its certainly another staple of Woo, but here he is doing it on a much more epic scale, which was necessary for getting one of China's most famous stories done right.
A very well handled movie that delivers handsomely on its epic action.
Cao Cao: This rag tag group of warriors mustn't be underestimated.
The cast is great on all fronts, Kaneshiro shows that he has acting skills and not just pretty looks. Tony Leung is Tony Leung and Fengyi Zhang is spot on as Cao Cao. Woo delivers action but actually cares about the characters. You could say that he has enough material to help him in that matter, but this could have failed hard and in so many different ways.
Certainly surpassed my (low) expectations. After more than a decade of crap Woo can finally add another solid flick to his credits. Looking foward to the second part.
While it is the first movie John Woo has filmed in China in some time, "Red Cliff" is still something of a departure for him, as to my knowledge, it is the first pre-20th century period piece of a such an epic stature that he has made.(For the record, this review refers to the deluxe international version.) His lack of experience in this genre shows. For example, Woo's strength has always been with stylish action sequences and there is no shortage of them here.(My personal favorite is the arrow trick.) But these are inappropriate when attempting to depict a war, as one character puts it, where there are no winners. However, Cao Cao is the clear villain, as he seeks only power for himself and spends most of the movie stroking his beard while the other side is an underdog, ragtag operation. That's not to mention all of the misplaced sentimentality on display. On the plus side, nobody flies during the movie
Prime minister Cao Cao (Zhang), who has conquered many warlords of northern China, bullies the young emperor into sending him to defeat two "rebel" armies to the south. Liu Bei (You) leads the smaller force and Sun Quan (Chang) is lord of the southern kingdom. Liu Bei's military strategist/diplomat/reader of signs of nature especially the weather, Zhuge Liang (Kaneshiro) travels to form an alliance between the two armies in preperation for Cao Cao's attack. Kaneshiro is awesome in this wise scholarly role. This is the type of wise adviser role usually played by an old man with a white beard, but he is young and easy on the eyes according to my wife. Sun Quan's viceroy Zhou Yu (Tony Leung) is the other major military strategist, who really appreciates the art of war and the beauty of music. Leung is also excellent in a strong heroic role. Sun Quan's sister wants in on the action too and serves as a spy for awhile. Zhou Yu's wife Xiao Qiao seeks peace and is willing to do what she can to further the success of the Alliance's cause. Other generals and skilled fighters in the Alliance include Zhao Yun, the ex-pirate Gan Xing, and Guan Yu. Some of these men are hard to keep track of in the heat of battle. But the military planning and missions each man takes on does a lot for making the elaborate clashes accessible for the audience. The brief moments of humor, the romance between Zhou Yu and his wife, the carefully planned attacks and counter attacks, the kinetic and disciplined hand to hand combat all add up to a historically epic story worth seeing!
Part one clocks in at just under two-and-a-half hours, which is dandy and all when we're talking about an epic that, when accompanied by a second part, clocks in at a total of a bit over three-and-a-half, if not four hours, yet part two is a whole second half, which leaves both films to clock in at a total of just under five hours, which is about the time you start to outstay your welcome, and this couldn't have been done without both films going padded by their own rights, which isn't to say that things don't get a bit too tight to a fault. The film charges out of the gate with a hurried opener and subsequent immediate development stage, so much so that the film actually does something of a pet peeve of mine and sums up multiple battles via montage, and when you have John Woo action, you should know better than to just sum it up montage style, even if it would have made this film, like, an extra hour or two if we were to cover the early stages of the final days of the Han Dynasty. Anyways, the point is that, even at its sprawling runtime, the duology, or whatever you want to call it, kicks off a little bit too quickly, which isn't to say that the hurried occasions only end with the early parts of the development segment. Of course, really, these moments of rushing are, in fact, considerably rare, and what you really need to worry about is, well, quite frankly the opposite of hurried, as made clear by the film's, or rather, both films' international cut, because for theatrical release outside of Asia, they managed to combine both versions into a single film and create a version that was reasonably well-recieved and condensed to run not but a few minutes longer than the complete version of this first part, alone, and while I hear and am sure that the radically abridged version of the film dilutes much bite and is inferior to the complete cut, if not perhaps either parts of the complete cut, the fact of the matter is that they have managed to cut out well over two hours, to little notice from international theatergoers, and I'm betting that what was the whole second half would have to be really, really short if all of that footage was cut from it, so, of course, this film has a lot of fat to trim. Now, quite honestly, the film's length doesn't feel terribly excessive, not so much falling into repetition or even all that much messy bloating, but just simply covering so much material that, after a while, it becomes a smidge convoluted and overblown in a nearly exhausting fashion, while making matters worse by having much material not just bear down on you because it's too great in quantity, but because it also goes tainted by some good old fashion Asian histrionics and moderate melodrama that hold back the film's dramatic punch here and there. The film is indeed massive, yet either gets to massive or not quite massive enough, though, either way, falls victim to messy momentum that slows down its full impact. As it stands, however, it still hits pretty hard, sustaining your investment, keeping you entertained and ultimately leaving you wanting more as John Woo finds not only his return to Asian cinema, but return to form, while flaunting a certain something as well as he always has: syle.
John Woo knows his style, and photography directors Lü Yue and Zhang Li know how to back that style up, delivering on colorfully detailed cinematography, with many cleverly slick and elaborate shots that give this film both its style and epic sweep, further complimented by stellar production designs that recreate ancient China intricately, dazzlingly and immersively. Of course, when all of this artistic, technical and production mumbo jumo all fall together in the heat of battle, that's when the film really shines, as John Woo hasn't forgotten his action, and he'll be struck down if he lets you forget, delivering on the tighter action sequences with slick and dynamic choreography and on the much broader action sequences with explosively sweeping concepts and a surprising amount of dynamicity that plunges you into the heat of the warfare and thrills you grandly. Of course, no matter what kind of action sequence Woo delivers upon, the point is that he delivers each time when it comes to action, not just in his concepts and staging of the action, but in his manipulation of the atmosphere, drawing substance from the action in order to give you a feel for the weight and consequence of the combat, making it all the more intense and the film itself all the more compelling, which isn't to say that Woo delivers on this compellingness only during the action, as he also knows how to tell a strong story, and it's a good thing too, because the action, as praise-worthy as it is, isn't quite as prevalent as you would expect (There's a big, Peter Jackson-length battle that directly precedes the final half-hour that's just beautiful, in a manly sort of way, and pretty much makes up for the lack of action in the rest of the film, so don't worry too much kids), unless of course you take into consideration that an epic duology that totals out to be almost five hours isn't likely to spend its whole development stage already busting heads, especially this one. This film is very much the calm before the storm, though, as I spent the better part of the last paragraph emphasizing, maybe it gets to be too calm, for although I'm not asking for one dumb blockbuster battle sequence every second or third scene out of this two-and-a-half hour epic, the film plays out very aware that it's setting up something big by spending its sweet time of two-and-a-half hours on exposition, characterization and other hallmarks of the Asian dramatic epic, complete with a lot of momentum-restraining histrionics. In a situation like this, if your story is strong, like this film's, then your film should turn out just fine, though it certainly helps to have a firm dramatic bite, something that Woo delivers on more often than not. Sure, the film's uneven momentum and many points of histrionics do, as I said, dilute the film's resonance, yet the film is rarely, if ever disengaging, as Woo drenches the film in a consistent degree of intrigue and livliness that creates ceaseless entertainment value, in the midst of which you can find substance and depth that Woo, with the help of his myriad of fine acting talents, draws from with inspired grace and captures your investment in the characters and story, and leaves you thoroughly compelled, or if nothing else, thoroughly entertained. Part one of John Woo's epic vision is a rocky, yet ultimately rewarding one that firmly establishes its tones, intentions and story in a fashion that's entertaining, dramatically impressive and leaves you eager for more, though not to where you forget to enjoy this film, by its own right, while your in its moment.
In the end of the beginning, the film has the fewest of hurried occasions and many occasions in which it's anything but, boasting excessive exposition that slightly convolutes the film and certainly makes it rather exhausting, especially considering the plague that is histrionics, thus leaving the film to mark maybe not the most booming debut for John Woo's epic vision, yet stand as a still pretty booming debut, nonethless, boasting lovely and sweeping photography and production designs to compliment the, albeit somewhat underused yet always upstanding action sequences, which also go graced with compelling substance, spawned from John Woo's atmospheric direction that, when combined with a myriad of inspired performances, draws from the film's worthy substance and creates the consistent entertainment value and compellingness needed to make "Red Cliff" an engrossing and rewarding first chapter in John Woo's return to form and study on the booming Battle of Red Cliff that laid in the midst of the end of ancient China's Han Dynasty.
3/5 - Good
This visually stunning 5 hour massively scaled epic is absolutely mind-blowing and stands as one of the greatest films of all time. With intense long battle sequences that stand tall next to those of the Lord of the Rings series and a score that is simply breathtaking this film is an amazing achievement.
The story of the film goes as followed. It is the autumn of 208AD and 100,000 peasants flee with their leader Liu Bei from Cao Cao's million man army. With aid of allied heroes they escape across the Great River to take refuge with the leader of the south, Suan Quan. As Cao Cao prepares his huge navy to innvade Southern China and destroy them all, the allies devise a grand strategy to destroy Cao Cao's thousand ships with fire upon the river.
This film incorporates, Happiness, Sadness, Death, Treachery, Military Strategy and other features and themes to produce what I would like to call a perfect war epic.
The acting standard in the film is excellent with stand out performances from Takeshi Kaneshiro as Zhuge Liang, military strategist who's clever tactics and mind are able to sway battles whilst being aggressively outnumbered and also Zhao Wei as Sun Shangxiang, Sun Quan's feisty and tomboy sister. Each character stands as their own hero with all characters getting their fare share of screen time in order for the viwer to connect with each and every single hero.
Taro Iashiro does a masterful score that greatly effects the emotions of the viewer to give a stunning cinematic feel to the film.
It is a real shame that the international release is a little 2 1/2 hours in length once this amazing version is a little short of 5 hours. Do not let the length turn you off this version as it is easily the definitive version with every scene as important and beautiful as the last.
The film contains three main battle sequences all with varying length but all a stunning achievement were the tension, special effects, acting and epicness are all cranked up to 11. A personal favourite is the battle towards the end of the first half in which the southern forces battle Cao Cao's troops using the tortoise formation.
A lot of thought has gone in to this film and everything comes together to craft a film of art and beauty. I really could not have hoped for a better film and it was one in which exceeded my expectations by a huge margin. I urge all to view this masterpiece and hope that directors of future war films take not of John Woo's creation in order to inspire and allow other tales and stories to be produced with great amounts of depth, emotion, character development and most important of all and extremely enjoyable viewing experience.