Red Cliff (Chi Bi) Reviews
Watched this on 1/6/15
This review is about the International release of Red Cliff (part 1 and 2 combined). What really amazed me is that I ended up liking this Chinese film very well even though I expected really nothing from it' Red Cliff is a film known for it's heavy epic action sequences, but what makes it unique is the multitudes of battle strategies used in there. John Woo returns to Asia and triumphs in creating a terrific epic with nuanced performances, fine action and terrific scenery. It's definitely an epic worth the watch.
Taking one of the most popular battles in the wars amongst the Three Kingdoms, John Woo adds a bit of humor to each character, also amplifying how he, or others, stereotypically views them (taken directly from the book "Romance of the Three Kingdoms"), all nicely fitted with epic battles and drama. Red Cliff, although long at about five hours, never seemed to let up on the story, drama, or action, and the length only adds to it. Red Cliff is sure to please most audiences, and especially fans of the era or book.
I would say skip-able.
As the version of Red Cliff I saw was trimmed down to 148 minutes from its original 288 minute running time, a lot of the story got sacrificed in the process. Instead of me seeing the full story as John Woo intended, I was limited to a cut of the film which ran for practically half the length of the original version. I canâ(TM)t help but feel that a significant portion of the tale was absent from the film and that potentially a lot of the context was eliminated. There is a lot of historical context in the story of Red Cliff, but as I am from a Western society there is nothing in it that I am familiar with, and the film didnâ(TM)t exactly work wonders at explaining to me precisely what the story entailed. But then again, I watched Red Cliff for its entertainment value as a war epic more than as a history lesson, and in that retrospect it mostly did the job of entertaining me. I just wish I understood the story a little bit more.
The trimmed down version of Red Cliff makes it seem like it is more there for battle-focused entertainment value than too much else as what it cuts out ends up leaving the relevance of a lot of the characters ambiguous, so a lot of the flaws I found in the film can be strictly attributed to the fact that the film is not John Wooâ(TM)s full vision. But from a stylish perspective, it easily maintains John Wooâ(TM)s eye for excellent imagery.
Red Cliff serves as an impressive spectacle. Thanks to amazing production design and detailed costumes against the backdrop of beautiful scenery, Red Cliff is a very impressive looking film. Everything looks spot on with excellent detail and colour, and it is all captured with invigorating cinematography techniques which tackle all sorts of epic angles. Everything is edited well, so that things move along fast to keep up with the energetic pace of the battle but also slow enough so that it is easy to comprehend everything that is going on. The scale of Red Cliff really easily establishes a large sense of war going on, and it uses all of the fine technical elements to establish a lot of impressive action scenes in the process. The action in Red Cliff ranges from well-choreographed close combat duels to shots of arrows travelling long distances, and the footage varies from this to shots of the characters close up and shots of the battle at sea. All in all, everything in Red Cliff just looks astounding, and it is one of John Wooâ(TM)s most visually creative films to date. It is impressive to see just how far Asian cinema has come.
The musical score of Red Cliff is excellent. It has a sense of classical adventure to it, the kind of music that gave atmosphere to historical epics in the 1950â(TM)s but moved to a contemporary age, so there is a strong sense of nostalgia that comes to it. It gives the film a nice spirit and encourages the mood of it all very well which makes it more enjoyable as an experience.
The screenplay of the film is somewhat scattered. Even John Woo himself admitted that Red Cliff favours battle more than narrative, and so he does what he does best in the film in favour of perfect storytelling. But the concepts in the story remain interesting and the dialogue seems really natural, so there is a fairly strong level of realism in the film. It helps the realistic nature of the history in Red Cliff seems more interesting as it all progresses because there is a large story to be told and a lot of settings to be captured, and the technical elements of the film are all consistently impressive, enough so that a lot of the narrative flaws are easy to turn a blind eye to. Frankly, it is a great step forward for John Woo. He goes back to his strong sense of action, but proceeds with a better sense of filmmaking than his more recent efforts on film such as Paycheck of Broken Arrow. Red Cliff shows John Woo back in form which works essentially as a second coming for the legendary Asian filmmaker, and so the importance of the filmâ(TM)s existence is key to its success as well.
And the cast in Red Cliff all do their part as well.
In her debut performance, Lin Chi-ling does a powerful job in the part of Xiao Qiao. She has a passionate dramatic spirit for the part with plenty of dramatic charisma which easily stands out. She engages with the story in the film very well by delivering all of her lines with ease and remaining in tune with the character emotionally and physically. She stays determined in the material which makes her a strong driving force in Red Cliff and a likable figure for the story to be anchored by.
Tony Leung leads the story very well in Red Cliff. As the protagonist of the tale, Tony Leung grasps his dramatic material nearly as well as his weaponry which makes him easily convincing hero and strong dramatic presence in the material.
Zhao Wei also proves to deliver a powerful effort by embodying the correct spirit for her role. She is a genial presence to add to the skilful cast. You Young also stands out because he has a defying spirit to him where he is able to use his natural dramatic talents to harness the nature of the atmosphere.
So thanks to John Wooâ(TM)s keen eye for excellent imagery and strong action scenes, Red Cliff serves as an impressive return to form for him even if it does have narrative flaws