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Red Cliff - Film Journal International

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 16, 2013 11:16 pm    Post subject: Red Cliff - Film Journal International Reply with quote

By: Eagan, Daniel, Film Journal International, 15269884, Dec 2009, Vol. 112, Issue 12

MAGNET RELEASING/Color/2.35/Dolby Digital/ 148 Mins./Rated R

Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei, Hu Jun, Shidou Nakamura, Chiling Lin, You Yong, Hou Yong, Tong Daiwei, Song Jia, Ba Sen Zha Bu, Zang Jingsheng.

Credits: Directed by John Woo. Screenplay by Woo, Khan Chan, Kuo Cheng, Sheng Heyu, based on the novel Romance of Three Kingdoms by Lug Guanzhong. Produced by Terence Chang, Woo. Directors of photography: Lu Yue, Zhang Li. Production designer/costume designer: Tim Yip. Edited by Angle Lam, Yang Hongyu, Robert A. Ferretti. Music by Taro Iwashiro. Visual effects supervisor: Craig Hayes. Action unit director: Corey Yuen. Executive producers: Han Sanping, Masato Matsuura, Wu Kebo, Ryuhei Chiba, Chin-Wen Huang, Wootaek Kim, Jeonghun Ryu. A China Film Group, Avex Entertainment, Chengtian Entertainment, CMC Entertainment and Showbox presentation of a Lion Rock production. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

Warring armies clash in third-century China. Epic adventure marks a return to form for director John Woo. 09-269

Loosely based on the 13th-century novel Romance of Three Kingdoms, Red Cliff is a vivid account of one of the cornerstone narratives in Chinese culture. Several years in the making, it is director John Woo's first Asian film since he left Hong Kong for Hollywood in 1992. Released in two feature-length parts, the Red Cliff saga has broken box-office records throughout Asia. Almost half of Woo's original vision has been excised for the American version, but what remains is a muscular, focused and uncommonly thoughtful story of war.

Set in the early third century, Red Cliff pits two southern warlords against Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi), a crafty prime minister with allegiance to Emperor Han in the north. Opposing him first is Lui Bei (You Yong), the elderly head of the Xu Kingdom. When Lui Bei's forces lose a key battle, military advisor Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) sets off for East Wu to ask for help from Sun Quan (Chang Chen). Zhou Yu (Tony Leung Chiuwai), hero of earlier battles and Sun Quan's military leader, chooses Red Cliff along the Yangtze River as the site of the showdown with Cao Cao. With vastly inferior forces and supplies, Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang must rely on strategy to defeat Cao Cao.

Although it is teeming with characters and plot twists, Red Cliff is told in such a direct and vigorous style that it is never confusing. (The American version adds a brief voice-over and some introductory rifles.) Woo paints the leads in broad, colorful strokes, but is careful to present them as humans rather than superheroes. Tellingly, Woo and his screenwriters have turned what is often thought of as a fantasy into something real and down-to-earth. Psychology and science are as important as brawn and derring-do, and what in other films and books seemed like magic becomes raw, shocking warfare here.

In the edited version, Red Cliff centers around two battles that take place on a massive scale. Woo does an exceptionally good job marshalling forces, explaining strategies, and showing the progress of fighting. Weapons, techniques, roses have an immediacy and clarity often missing from the genre. Choreographed by veteran Corey Yuen, the action is pounding, relentless, astonishing. Special effects give Woo the opportunity to employ breathtaking crane shots that swoop over entire battlefields. His command of film technique and grammar is the equal of anyone working in the genre. And he has paid special attention to his actors, eliciting a marvelously nuanced performance from Zhang Fengyi as the nominal villain Cao Cao.

This is not the John Woo of The Killer or Mission: Impossible H, the master of pyrotechnics and male bonding. Fans looking for shootouts or martial-arts brawls may be disappointed with a story that probes so deeply into the thoughts and motives of its characters. Woo still adds many of his characteristic touches, in particular leaning on slow-motion cinematography and forced sentimentality. By discarding some of his excesses, the shorter version is much more in time with American tastes. These few faults aside, Red Cliff is a rich, satisfying and thrilling film that stands up to the best Hollywood epics.


By Daniel Eagan

Last edited by Sandy on Wed Jun 04, 2014 10:35 pm; edited 2 times in total
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 16, 2013 11:17 pm    Post subject: 'CLIFF II' SCALES NEW HEIGHTS. Reply with quote


By: Elley, Derek, Variety, 00422738, 1/19/2009, Vol. 413, Issue 9

Section: Film Reviews

Simply the second half of an almost five-hour movie rather than a self-contained pic in its own right, John Woo's costume actioner "Red Cliff II" delivers in spades for auds left hungry for more by last summer's first seg. With characters already established, this half is expectedly heavier on action, though nimble editing and charismatic perfs still pack beau coup human interest prior to the final hour's barnstorming battle. Pic opened bracingly in China Jan. 7 and fans out this month through major Asian markets (with Japan in April), where biz should rank with that of "Red Cliff."

Given the success of Woo's high-stakes undertaking -- at $80 million, the most expensive Chinese-language movie ever-- it remains a crying shame that the two films may never be seen outside Asia on the bigscreen. (For hardcore buffs, the first pic is already available on DVD in Asia.) Non-Asian auds are meant to be content with a planned 2 1/2-hour "international version," which cannot hope to replicate the impressive detail and sheer epic sweep of the 280-minute original.

Rapid, two-minute recap of "Red Cliff" (beneath the main titles) serves more to get ands' pulses racing again than to educate newcomers. The year is 208 A.D., near the end of the 400-year-old Han Dynasty, and the opposing forces of prime-minister-cum-general Cao Cao (mainland vet Zhang Fengyi), repping the Emperor in the north, and a relatively small coalition led by Zhou Yu (Hong Kong idol Tony Leung Chiu-wai), repping "rebellious" southern warlords, are about to face off in a decisive battle at Red Cliff on the Yangtze River.

The north-south divide, symbolized by the river that runs through China's middle, is even more strongly emphasized here: Cao Cao's massive but lumpen army is uneasy on water and tiring after campaigning southward, while Zhou Yu, typical of more wily, faster-thinking southerners, is determined to hold what he sees as a line in the sand. Script doesn't push the allegory of a northern-based government trying to unify China by force, but it's there for the taking, with Zhou carefully stressing at one point that he doesn't oppose the Emperor per se, only Cao Cao and his brutal methods.

Though the first film's cliffhanger ending had an eve-of-battle feel, "Red Cliff II" actually spends well over an hour detailing each side's plans, as Cao Cao's initial confidence in his numerical supremacy is undercut by an outbreak of typhoid among his troops.

After Cao Cao manages to infect Zhou's troops with the disease, Zhou, aided by master strategist

Zhuge Liang (Chinese-Japanese thesp Takeshi Kaneshiro), realizes this is as much a psychological war as it is a simple numbers game. When warlord Liu Bei (You Yong) politely deserts Zhou, the latter is left with only 30,000 men vs. Cao Cao's several hundred thousand.

There's considerable fun, and not a little humor, in the resourceful southerners' wheezes, aided by secret messages sent back from Cao Cao's camp by undercover princess Sun Shangxiang (petite mainland actress Vicki Zhao). After some clever tactics by Zhuge Liang to undermine Cao Cao, the scene is finally set for the decisive David-vs.-Goliath engagement, with Zhou Yu's wife (Taiwanese supermodel Lin Chi-ling) playing a crucial role.

The massive battle, on land as well as sea, has no single standout sequence (such as the trap of shields into which Cao Cao's troops were lured in the first pic), but there's the same balance between the mechanical aspects of ancient warfare and acts of individual heroism. Finale, with its personal standoff, plays fast and loose with history and comes closest to the feel of a regular Hong Kong actioner, but makes sense in dramatic terms after well over four hours of buildup.

As in the first pic, Zhang is a powerhouse presence as Cao Cao and is easily the richest character in the whole pic, as the script refrains from reducing him to a pure villain. Leung is slightly less imposing this time, though his chemistry with Kaneshiro is fine, drawing a friendship between equals. Zhao again supplies some spunky humor, and Lin, largely decorative before, has a couple key scenes in which she holds her own against Zhang.

Taro Iwashiro's rousing score again complements the fluid editing (especially clever in keeping a large number of characters in the game) and the gritty but not unattractive widescreen lensing. Visual and special effects do their job just fine.

Outside China, pic has a secondary title that roughly means "The Decisive Battle of All Time." In this 280-minute, two-part version, helmer-producer Woo and fellow producer Terence Chang have indeed crafted one of the great Chinese costume epics of all time.

Directed by
John Woo
Tony Leung Chiu-wai,
Takeshi Kaneshiro,
Chang Chen



A China Film Group Corp. (in China)/Avex Entertainment (in Japan)/ CMC Entertainment, 20th Century Fox (in Taiwan)/Showbox (in South Korea) release of a China Film Group, Chengtian Entertainment Intl. Holdings (China)/ Avex Entertainment (Japan)/CMC Entertainment (Taiwan)/Showbox (South Korea)/John Woo presentation of a Lion Rock production. (International sales: Summit Entertainment, Los Angeles.) Produced by Terence Chang, Woo. Executive producers, Han Sanping, Masato Matsuura, Wu Kebo, Ryuhei Chiba, Dennis Wu, Ryu Jeong-han, Woo. Co-producers, Anne Woo, Zhang Daxing, Yeh Rufeng, David Tang, Wang Wei, Cheri Yeung.

Directed by John Woo. Screenplay, Woo, Khan Chan, Kuo Cheng, Sheng Heyu. Camera (color, widescreen), Lu Yue, Zhang Li; editors, Daniel Wu, Angie Lain, Yang Hongyu; music, Taro Iwashiro; production designer, Tim Yip; art director, Eddy Wong; costume designer, Yip; sound (Dolby Digital), Roger Savage, Wu Jiang, Wen Bo; sound designer, Steve Burgess; visual effects supervisor, Craig Hayes; visual effects/animation, the Orphanage; stunt supervisor, Dion Lam; assistant directors, Thomas Chow, Richard L. Fox; second unit directors, Zhang Jinzhan (army battles), Patrick Leung (naval battle). Reviewed at Shaw Lido 1, Singapore, Jan. 9, 2009. Running time: 140 MIN.

With: Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen, Vicki Zhao, Hu Jun, Shido Nakamura, Lin Chi-ling, You Yong, Hou Yong, Tong Dawei, Song Jia, Basenzabu, Zang Jinsheng, Zhang Shan, Wang Hui, Shi Xiaohong. (Mandarin dialogue)
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