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2008/2009 - Red Cliff

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 11:08 pm    Post subject: 2008/2009 - Red Cliff Reply with quote

Red Cliff (2008-2009)

Follow Red Cliff I & II thread (Nov 15, 2007- Apr 29, 2009)

Red Cliff Reviews (IMDB: english)

Red Cliff (wikipedia: english)

Official site (english)

《赤壁》 - Red Cliff (sina: chinese)

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 11:10 pm    Post subject: John Woo's Rendition of "Romance of Three Kingdoms" Reply with quote

John Woo's Rendition of "Romance of Three Kingdoms" Part ONE!!

Feb 28, 2009

by woopak_the_thrill, posted in ASIANatomy

In Asia, John Woo's costume epic is divided into two parts, one released in late 2008 and the second part currently playing in Asia this month. Seeing as this film is only part one of two, it is a little difficult to judge just how it would play out. John Woo returns to Asian filmmaking with his adaptation of the Chinese classic "Romance of Three Kingdoms" called "Red Cliff" (aka. "Battle of Red Cliff"). This film is a star-studded serving with some of Asia's top performers and it is a little more faithful to its source material than the recent "Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon". A little more faithful yes, but the film still has the usual John Woo stereotypes--exaggerated unrealistic action, eye-candy fight scenes, with the usual themes of brotherhood and friendship birthed from the fires of war.

208 A.D., The Battle of Chang Ban. Liu Bei (You Yong) narrowly escapes the siege by the forces of prime minister Cao Cao (Zhang Feng Yi) and this minister's lust for supreme power continues unabated. Strategist Zhuge Liang (Kaneshiro Takeshi, Returner) fears that Liu Bei and the Shu kingdom will not be able to withstand the armies of Cao Cao and proposes an alliance with the Kingdom of Wu. However, Sun Quan (Chang Chen) is reluctant to challenge Cao's ire. Zhuge Liang instead approaches the Wu Kingdom's chief strategist, Zhou Yu (Tony Leung, Lust Caution) to try to convince Sun Quan. Zhuge and Zhou are both kindred spirits and both are well-trained in the arts of war, they form a connection immediately. The two master strategists decide to engage Cao Cao at the water port of Red Cliff. This decision comes not a moment too soon, as Cao Cao is advancing with an army that vastly outnumbers the combined Wu and Shu forces. But Zhuge Liang is confident that his schemes and maneuvers can win them a victory.

The "Romance of Three Kingdoms" is a Chinese classic, its tales are told in TV dramas, novels, and even in video games (Koei's "Dynasty Warriors"). This high-budget Woo directed film has a lot of expectations going for it. "Red Cliff" is entertaining and solid, has awesome production values and the film is indeed a spectacle that is worth a look--notice I said it's worth a look, but NOT a film that is truly epic that overflows with grandeur. The film is good but it isn't as compelling as people hoped for. John Woo diverts the intricate complexities of its source material to his usual stereotyped themes and motifs, and in this way, he lessens the film's true significance. Woo isn't a complex storyteller, and definitely lacks realism in his execution. The director sidesteps the political importance and opts for a very positive view of brotherhood. The film does have a theme that most people can relate to and avoid a division of expectations, but it is a cheap way out. A film of this caliber should have a powerful historical context to be truly "epic" and become unforgettable. I wanted a political revelation of corruption, a bleak overview of war and the tragedies of the price of war; such as human lost and the cost of lives.

Brotherhood--well, it is so overdone. War is portrayed as necessary and brings honor and glory. One may say that war is a vehicle to reach a pinnacle of manhood? Brave men meet brave men in the fields of combat. The film also has a similar scene with "Three Kingdoms" where Zhao Yun (aka. Zhao Zhilong in "Three Kingdoms") rescues the infant child of Liu Bei. In this film Woo shoots the film with his usual style, music, machismo-laden scorching gazes, extreme close-ups and slow-motion; it is almost as if Woo was trying to upstage the scene with Andy Lau in "Three Kingdoms".

I've read that John Woo said in an interview that he is basing this film in the historical records "Chronicle of Three Kingdoms" rather than the novel "Romance of Three Kingdoms" to give it more historical accuracy. I have a question; if the battles are "historically accurate", would a commander send his best warriors to massacre an already cornered enemy? There was a scene where the iconic characters came out of the ranks to fight cornered troops (The trap was very cool by the way), I rather thought that best warriors were saved for the most extreme situations--maybe it was to intimidate--or maybe to demonstrate the usual John Woo style fight scenes that look so overly choreographed and so exaggerated? It does serve to introduce the characters but the film also loses some credibility in historical accuracy. Still, the servings of action that highlights the rescue of Liu Bei's son, the Battle of Chang Ban, the nicely shot "battle formation" to overpower Cao's huge force does provide a lot of entertainment value and abundant "Woo style" action sequences. (you do know what I mean with the "Woo style" don't you?)

The action is usually in the first act and the last act, and I admit, they were fun to watch. The film does carry some rather insignificant scenes that felt like they were minor "fillers" to slow things down but I also appreciated the attempts in trying to respect the source material. Those unfamiliar with these characters will have no issues following the proceedings and those who played "Dynasty Warriors" will be taken to nostalgia lane. The execution of strategy by the iconic characters are also quite appealing and this element is what makes the film better than Daniel Lee's "Three Kingdoms".

The performances are quite good. Tony Leung and Takeshi Kitano, are rightfully cast, they display a lot of charisma and very firm in their performances. I was very impressed with model Lin Chi-Ling who carries most of the emotions, and Woo guides her thoroughly. Zhang Fengyi is all arrogance and pride as the tyrant Cao Cao, that viewers will no doubt feel some repulsion towards him. Hu Jun, Shido Nakamura, Vickie Zhao and the rest of the supporting cast did well in adding some interactions. The lush cinematography, gorgeous set designs and elaborate costumes does add some additional points. Oh, the doves that usually are in his films make an appearance, however insignificant--so John Woo fans will be thrilled.

The film is quite good, it does almost stop to a crawl midway in the film, but I rather enjoyed it with the second viewing. Two significant battles in more than two hours and cheesy characterizations, the film is a respectable outing but hardly epic, and lacks a certain feeling you get when you see a truly powerful epic motion picture. The film does prove a little too long and almost seemed to lack emotions, the complexities and meditations of war are exchanged for honorable brotherhood, while it does make an easy connection, it does not make it a truly compelling film. Perhaps this is a product of the fact that this is a two-part film, and I reserve final judgment until I see the second installment. I hope to see all my dissatisfactions fulfilled in the final chapter, one can pray that John Woo had save the best for last. I'm in for "Red Cliff 2"!

Recommended! [4- Stars]

Note: There has been assumptions that the two films will be edited into one 3 hour plus film in its U.S. release.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 11:15 pm    Post subject: It’s Good Guys vs. Bad Guys on a China-Size Scale Reply with quote

It’s Good Guys vs. Bad Guys on a China-Size Scale


Published: November 17, 2009

The New York Times | Movie Reviews

In a six-year stretch beginning in 1986, John Woo released a series of balletic, ultraviolent crime thrillers that would rank among the most influential films of the last quarter-century. They took a hyperkinetic, Hong Kong style of action moviemaking out of the grind house and into the art house (and the suburban video store), from which it would eventually become the default mode for any number of big-budget Hollywood directors.

They also set the future course of Hong Kong cinema, taking it away from its martial arts roots and toward the realm of the operatic police procedural.

After “Hard Boiled” in 1992, Mr. Woo became a Hollywood director himself, making fast-moving but largely forgettable movies. (The best was probably the nukes-on-a-train story “Broken Arrow.”) After “Paycheck” in 2003, he went dark as far as feature films were concerned.

Now he’s back, in two senses: back making movies in Asia and back in theaters with “Red Cliff,” a nearly two-and-a-half-hour historical epic set in the third century A.D. that reunites him with Tony Leung, one of the stars of “Hard Boiled.” It would be nice to report that he’s also back on top of his game, but “Red Cliff,” while handsome and intelligent and perfectly easy to sit through, never really approaches the visceral tug of Mr. Woo’s Hong Kong hits.

Loosely based on the 14th-century Chinese novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” which recounts events in the waning Han dynasty more than a millennium earlier, “Red Cliff” has one of the most familiar of war movie or western setups: the outnumbered good guys scheming to defeat a vastly larger force.

In this case, though, the good guys — a pair of small southern China kingdoms whose forces are led by the viceroy Zhou Yu (Mr. Leung) — number in the tens of thousands, and the bad guys, the Han army led by the megalomaniacal general Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi), in the hundreds of thousands.

Mr. Woo, who can make romantic poetry out of a battle among 20 men in the confines of a teahouse, seems defeated, or at least defused, by this increase in scale. The battle scenes, which involve vast fleets of mostly computer-generated ships, sky-darkening volleys of arrows and the heroic, self-sacrificial storming of ramparts, are no better or worse than what any number of competent Hollywood (or Chinese) directors can turn out. And it’s not that this sort of large-scale action can’t be infused with feeling — Akira Kurosawa proved that it can in “Kagemusha” and “Ran” not long before Mr. Woo was making his breakout films.

Watching “Red Cliff,” you realize that Mr. Woo was always best as a miniaturist: the memorable action sequences in movies like “Bullet in the Head” and “Hard Boiled” are a series of tiny, split-second set pieces, a slide down a banister here, a glance between buddies there. “Red Cliff” has a few similar moments, in the byplay between Mr. Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro as a military strategist and in some of Mr. Leung’s (or his stunt double’s) battlefield acrobatics. But they’re just grace notes amid the grinding mechanics of deploying the troops and moving the story along. (That might not be the case in the five-hour version of the film released in Asia.)

One thing that hasn’t changed since 1992 is the reassuring presence of Mr. Leung, one of the world’s last true matinee idols. His combination of Zen-like calm and wild expressiveness, centered in his pixieish eyes, serves equally well whether he is playing the tortured aesthete for Wong Kar-wai, the murderous bureaucrat for Ang Lee or the action hero for Mr. Woo. Not even body armor and an ancient helmet, let alone a cast of thousands, can contain him.

“Red Cliff” is rated R (under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) for death by arrow, lance and sword.


Directed by John Woo; written by Mr. Woo, Khan Chan, Kuo Cheng and Sheng Heyu; directors of photography, Lu Yue and Zhang Li; edited by Angie Lam, Yang Hongu and Robert A. Ferretti; music by Taro Iwashiro; production designer, Tim Yip; produced by Terence Chang and Mr. Woo; released by Magnet Releasing. At the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, 143 East Houston Street, between First and Second Avenues, East Village. In Mandarin, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 28 minutes.

WITH: Tony Leung (Zhou Yu), Takeshi Kaneshiro (Kong Ming), Zhang Fengyi (Cao Cao), Chang Chen (Sun Quan), Zhao Wei (Sun Shangxiang), Hu Jun (Zhao Yun, a k a Zhao Zilong), Shidou Nakamura (Gan Xing) and Chiling Lin (Xiao Qiao).

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 11:19 pm    Post subject: The view: John Woo's departure from Hollywood is a loss to u Reply with quote

The view: John Woo's departure from Hollywood is a loss to us all

Posted by Danny Leigh

Friday 20 November 2009 11.31 EST

Once hailed as the man to shake up Hollywood, the maestro of dizzying, exquisitely choreographed action movies has returned to the far east


Red Cliff (Chi bi)
Production year: 2008
Countries: China, Rest of the world
Cert (UK): 15
Runtime: 146 mins
Directors: John Woo
Cast: Chang Chen, Chen Chang, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Zhang Fengyi

Let's say from the start that the life of a major league film-maker, with a thriving career in several corners of the globe, is not one to be sniffed at. That said, it's hard not to feel some small twinge of fellow feeling for John Woo, Hong Kong's onetime bullet-spraying master of the action genre. You may not have heard his name for some time but he was, in the early years of this soon to be ex-decade, still being spoken of as the dominant force of the film industry's future. "The most influential director making movies today," The New York Times called him back in 2002, adding, "Woo embodies the globalising forces that have shaped motion pictures in the last two decades."

Which makes it all the more poignant to witness how his star has dimmed dramatically in the west. To wit, this week sees the US release of his vastly-scaled epic of ancient China, the made-in-Mandarin Red Cliff. In China itself, it broke box-office records. That, however, was almost 18 months ago. In the States, it's now belatedly slipping out in a truncated version that also contains a chunk of its similarly epic sequel – first on a limited run in New York, then the kind of national release schedule typically enjoyed by mumblecore films. Here in Britain, it crept out this summer and attracted warm reviews for its lavish sense of spectacle. However, its box-office performance means it may be some while before a Woo movie sees the inside of a UK cinema again (the one I saw it in was empty but for me and two men with backpacks).

Depressingly, this is the fate of all manner of foreign language cinema on both sides of the Atlantic. But to find Woo so marginalised is doubly striking given that in another time – not so long ago but a world apart from now – he was the director who was meant to reshape Hollywood. That time was the early 90s, the vehicle a body of work assembled in his native Hong Kong that had already half-revolutionised the action movie: bloody, exquisitely choreographed tableaux of gunplay contained within the dizzying likes of Hard Boiled and The Killer. Then, his profile raised by fond tributes from Scorsese and Tarantino, he was all but borne into Beverly Hills by sedan chair – such was the eagerness of the studios for him to fill the gulf left by the decrepitude of Schwarzenegger and Stallone. It was to be a new age: one in which Hollywood would be regenerated by the energy and imagination of another culture, another country, one that spoke a different language both literally and artistically.

There were not one but two false starts (the generic Hard Target and Broken Arrow, a confused nuclear heist movie involving John Travolta). But by 1997 Woo hit his stride with an awesome panache. The result was Face/Off – the heroically demented tale of an FBI agent and comically venal terrorist whose features are surgically swapped for reasons that cease to matter after about 30 seconds. The movie had Travolta returning opposite Nicolas Cage in what was probably the most inspired moment in the "Before" stage of the latter's career (the one with the good films). Drawing out every ounce of Guignol genius from a script with a premise at once LA-loopy and timeless enough to have come from Chinese legend, Woo realised the brilliant concept of a marriage between Hollywood's steely glitz and the purist grace of his films in Hong Kong. It seemed, in short, to have worked.

Until it didn't. Because after that, in the space of just six years came the series of missteps that served to undo Woo's career in the west. The first, as missteps often do, involved Tom Cruise, with Woo taking the greasy baton of Mission: Impossible 2; the result managed not to make its director look bad so much as (far more damagingly) anonymous. Then there was Windtalkers, his portrait of the US army's second world war Navajo "code talkers" (or at least their guardianship by Nicolas Cage). Fleetingly beautiful, more often dreary, its attempt at broadening its director's range ended up attracting criticism over the relegation of its Navajo characters to supporting players. That, and losing an estimated $60m.

If that was a long drop to come back from, his next project cut the guide rope completely. Paycheck, a woeful Philip K Dick adaption that starred a "Bennifer"-era Ben Affleck, was the kind of film that serves only to act as a punchline in an episode of Family Guy. From there, the only path left open for Woo was the one he took – out of the studio lots, and back to Asia. He has now recast himself as a maker of monumental historical epics for audiences in Beijing and Shanghai. There is of course a far worse fate for a director than to be hugely popular in modern China. But still, you can't help but wonder if Woo occasionally broods on what might have been. Or do the same yourself at the now lost idea of ultra-mainstream Hollywood being shaped by a man inspired by Jean-Pierre Melville and The Wizard of Oz, not Michael Bay and McG.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 11:25 pm    Post subject: Director John Woo's 'Red Cliff' is an epic whose time has co Reply with quote

Director John Woo's 'Red Cliff' is an epic whose time has come

A Q&A with legendary Hong Kong filmmaker John Woo, whose new movie "Red Cliff," his take on a historic Chinese battle, is being released Wednesday, Nov. 25.

By Marian Liu, Seattle Times staff reporter

Originally published Sunday, November 22, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Director John Woo said he'd wanted to make "Red Cliff" for 20 years but "we didn't have the budget or the technology."

There is one name synonymous with Hong Kong action flicks — John Woo.

His beautifully choreographed fights are iconic, eliciting copycats and fans all around the world. And Woo crossed over, directing such blockbusters as "Mission Impossible II" and "Face/Off."

It's been six years since the 61-year-old made an American movie — "Paycheck" with Ben Affleck. But Wednesday, Woo is releasing his take on the classic Chinese story of the Three Kingdoms, called "Red Cliff." It's like a historical mash-up of "300" and "Helen of Troy."

The film is a fusion of the highly successful two-part movie released in Asia. The first part earned more than $124 million.

Woo talked by phone from San Francisco about directing, fights and musicals.

Q: Why translate this classic story?

A: I grew up with this story. ... I've wanted to make this movie for 20 years, but ... we didn't have the budget or the technology. ... This is like a dream come true.

Q: Why this part of history?

A: The battle of Red Cliff was one of the most famous battles in Chinese history. ... It shows how a much smaller army can defeat a large, more powerful enemy, through a combination of teamwork, innovation, intelligence and courage.

Q: How did you make this story your own?

A: I wanted to make the heroes more human, rather than superheroes. ... I increased the female roles. ... I wanted to show that the classical woman was known for their beauty, but they also had a very strong personality. ... Just like women nowadays today, very brave, independent, very intelligent, sometimes they do even a better job than a man.

Q: How did you tailor the film for U.S. audiences?

A: I never thought of using a different approach for American audiences. I was just trying to keep as much as I could. I cut some of the side character roles and tried to maintain it as one story line and focus on the key characters.

Q: What do the white doves in your movies symbolize?

A: The white doves represent peace, love, innocence and purity. ... It became one of my styles. If I don't use it, I'm afraid my fans will think something is missing.

Q: Your fights look like dances. Is that a conscious move?

A: I have so much influence from musicals. When I'm choreographing a fighting sequence, I feel like I'm designing a dancing scene. I shoot the scene with music.

Q: What kind of music?

A: For big scenes in "Red Cliff," I will listen to some symphony, classical music.

Q: You broke a lot of barriers. Do you find it easier now?

A: Yes, it is a lot easier now. ... We can learn from each other. In China, ... the film business is booming and growing fast. The government is more open. ... From now on, the Chinese, Americans and even Europeans will have a lot more co-productions.

Q: How do you feel about copycats?

A: I just feel like I have so many friends and we are living in a big family and studying in the same school. Actually we are learning from each other. In the old times, I also learned from filmmakers and I used their techniques to develop my own style.

Q: What's next?

A: My next project is called "the Flying Tigers," this story about the American volunteer team fighter pilots who worked with the Chinese Air Force in World War II, a true story. The main theme is the friendship between the Chinese and Americans.

Q: What inspires you to keep making movies?

A: I think it's a good way of communicating with others, just like a writer using a pen. ... I love friends, so when I'm making a movie, it's like I'm writing a letter to my friends. And my friends is the audience.

Marian Liu: 206-464-3825 or

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 11:28 pm    Post subject: Woo’s right at home in shortened epic tale Reply with quote

Woo’s right at home in shortened epic tale

The Boston Globe | Movie review: Red Cliff

By Wesley Morris, Globe Staff

November 25, 2009

The very epicness of John Woo’s “Red Cliff’’ is an entertainment. It’s a siege picture set in ancient China, and it’s old-fashioned and newfangled at the same time. Most of the shots look either touched up or entirely artificial, and Woo wants us to laugh at the overripe flourishes. At some point, a zillion digitized arrows sail through the sky and into a fleet of ships. After the attack, two men stand and talk, without much fanfare, on the back of a straw boat that now looks like an enormous porcupine.

RED CLIFF Directed by: John Woo

Written by: Woo, Chen Han, and Sheng Heyu, adapted from the novel by Chen Shou

Starring: Tony Leung, Chang Chen, Zhang Fengyi, and a cast of thousands

At: Kendall Square

Running time: 148 minutes

In Mandarin, with subtitles

Rated: R (sequences of epic warfare)

The movie is set near the end of the Han Dynasty, in the third century, when the empire had been busted up into regions ruled by warlords. The leader of the Imperial Army, Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi), is merciless in his determination to reunify and rule the territories. First he wants to destroy unyielding southern defectors, led by Liu Bei (You Yong), Sun Quan (Chang Chen), and Sun’s chief military strategist, Zhou Yu (Tony Leung). In turn, Liu and Sun join forces to vanquish Cao Cao and his 850,000 men.

It’s perfectly obvious where all this is headed (the Battle of Red Cliffs) since, from the grand standoff of the opening sequence, it seems we’ve already arrived. Yet the fighting never stops: flaming arrows, blinding shields, catapulted fireballs. In his downtime, Zhou rehearses the choreography of battle as if he were practicing for a spot with the Twyla Tharp dancers. His violent strumming of the guqin is even further over the top. Nonetheless, all the male leads are swashbuckling and easy on the eyes - Leung and Nakamura Shido, who plays one of Zhou’s top commanders, are particularly sexy.

Woo (“Mission Impossible II’’) was raised in Hong Kong, and “Red Cliff’’ is the first Asian film he’s made since Hollywood lured him away in the early 1990s. A great, big mytho-historical number is probably the best way to return to the national fold. His bag of visual tricks certainly hasn’t changed. Half the movie happens in slow motion. Horses, in fact, are made to gallop at such a reduced speed that they, somehow, approximate gushing water. Swords spin toward chests. Blood splashes. The camera soars into close-ups, leaps about 100 feet heavenward, and sails over an armada. And, Woo fans, don’t despair: The trademark dove takes wing.

The director’s command of his camera in relation to the human body is still hard to beat. He orchestrates crisp, rhythmic showdowns that, even when they verge on over-editing, have a navigable chaos. But truth be told, “Red Cliff’’ feels laborious. It’s almost 2 1/2 hours, and too much is corny, cramped, and vague. (Taro Iwashiro’s nonstop score sounds oddly like the music for NBC’s Olympics broadcasts.) Some of the trouble is that, for the better part of an hour “Red Cliff’’ is a blur of names, faces, and facts. There’s a reason for the whirring confusion: The film was meant to be more than four hours long.

In China, where it played in two parts, the movie managed to unseat “Titanic’’ as the biggest box office hit of all time. There these characters are mythological, but an unfamiliar audience needs more ballast than the impressionistic parade of scenes that flies by. Even at 148 minutes (and viewed twice!), you still feel as if you’re watching the longest coming attraction ever for a John Woo movie.

Wesley Morris can be reached at

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 11:33 pm    Post subject: 'Red Cliff' ready for its closeup, John Woo epic to bow in A Reply with quote

'Red Cliff' ready for its closeup, John Woo epic to bow in Asia this week

By Patrick Frater, Clifford Coonan

Posted: Sun., Jul. 6, 2008, 5:00pm PT, Variety

The arduous task of bringing Asia's biggest-ever pic, "Red Cliff," to the bigscreen has been a battle worthy of the violent and chaotic time in which the movie is set.

Pic, adapted from China's classic novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms," is over four hours long. For Asian territories, the movie is being split into two parts, with the first to be released on Thursday in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea.

In Malaysia, it bows on July 17; Japan is aiming for November.

Auds outside Asia will get a single movie, expected to clock in at 2½ hours, coinciding with the release of the second part in Asia in January.

"Red Cliff" is a co-production of China Film Group, South Korea's Showbox Entertainment, Taiwan's CMC Entertainment group and Japan's Avex Entertainment.

Director John Woo is hoping the film will mark his glorious return home to Asia after decades in Hollywood. But backers of the $80 million project are taking no chances, marking the launch with a grueling promo push to win hearts and minds across the continent.

The story is set in the final days of the Han Dynasty, in the year 208, covering the war that established the Three Kingdoms period, when China had three rulers.

Bad weather, on-set tragedy with the death of a stuntman and cast walkouts all combined to put a pall over the pic's production. But happier times seem to be ahead. Post is finally wrapping on the second half of the Asian version of the project.

The talent -- stars Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen and Lin Chiling, as well as Woo and producer Terence Chang -- was wheeled out in Asian capitals in a bid to ensure that the film captures the Asian imagination to the extent it must to secure success across Asia.

"I have wanted to make this film for almost 20 years. James Wong Jim suggested I make a film about the war in 1986, but due to funding problems, it couldn't be done. After Wong's death, I felt a strong urge to make it happen," Woo told a news conference in Hong Kong. Reassuringly, he added that the film's second half was nearly ready, except for CGI details.

Movie on tour

The first of a busy run of charity premieres took place in Korea on June 26, with the second in Hong Kong on June 30. After that, the troupe headed into mainland China, with Beijing seeing preems on two successive nights.

The next stop was the earthquake zone on Thursday, where the movie screened at Chengdu's Wu Hou shrine. The complex, built in 223 A.D., includes memorial halls and burial sites of many of the characters featured in the film.

The decision to take "Red Cliff" to Sichuan won kudos for the production because it will help give a lift to the survivors of the May 12 quake, which left upwards of 90,000 dead or missing.

In a sign that years out of China have not dulled his understanding of the sensibilities of the local market, Woo invited 100 doctors, nurses, soldiers, volunteers and journalists who experienced the quake and helped with the rescue and relief work or reported about them to attend the ceremony, and paraded some of them up the red carpet.

"Red Cliff" spent Friday in Shanghai, followed by Guangzhou on Sunday and Shanzhen today. Then it is the turn of Taipei (Tuesday and Wednesday) and Singapore (Thursday), finishing off in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur on Friday.

Asian auds are keen to welcome back local son Woo, who left Hong Kong to make his name in Hollywood with "Face/Off" and "Mission: Impossible II."

Tony Leung initially dropped out of the picture, to be replaced by Takeshi Kaneshiro. Soon thereafter, Woo's long-time ally Chow Yun-fat ankled. Then two days later Leung was back in the line-up, this time in the lead, replacing Chow.

John Woo Realizes Dreams Through 'Red Cliff'

Jun. 26, 2008 (The Korea Times delivered by Newstex) -- By Lee Hyo-won

John Woo ("Mission Impossible 2") releases a mega-action war epic "Red Cliff," which the director proudly said was a manifestation of his childhood dreams during the movie's premiere event in Seoul Wednesday. This $80 billion co-production by South Korea's Showbox/Mediaplex brings together the hottest Asian stars including "Lust, Caution" hero Tony Leung and heartthrobs Takeshi Kaneshiro ("House of Flying Daggers") and Chang Chen ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon").

The movie, coming to theaters July 10 across Asia, is about the Red Cliff Battle, a climactic marine conflict in the epic historical novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms." The 61-year-old director told reporters "Red Cliff" took 18 years in envisioning and almost a lifetime of dreaming. "I was a diehard fan of the novel and I loved all the characters. When I was 10, I used to stay awake at night drawing characters on my window and use a lamp to project them onto the wall," he said.

"This is my dream come true, and it is by far my best work," said the maestro filmmaker with a smile. Reporters applauded Woo, who spent every cent from his paycheck when the project surpassed its budget just halfway into the shoot. "All I earned from the movie was two meals per day," he said.

The premiere event opened with a "gut" performance or Korean shamanistic ritual praying to the gods for good luck. Woo said the event boosted his confidence for the film's success.

While the maker of "Face/Off" said he was fortunate to work on many wonderful Hollywood projects, he said he always felt that Western films lacked a true understanding of Asian culture. "I truly wanted to capture the courage and wisdom of Asians and Asian culture," he said, again receiving applause from reporters.

In this classic story of warring states and hearts, Leung plays the role of brave general Zhou Yu while Kaneshiro is a wise scholar and Chen is a young, ambitious emperor. The three join hands to counter evil Cao Cao and his million-men army. In the heart of it all is a Helen of Troy-type (NASDAQ:HELE) struggle, as greedy Cao Cao lusts over Zhou Yu's beautiful wife, played by newcomer Lin Chiling.

For casting the star actors, the director said he had to consider many factors since it was based on history. He conducted thorough research on each character, and said Leung was perfect for playing a man who was known for his big heart. The actor flashed a big grin when one of the reporters congratulated him on his upcoming birthday and asked what was his secret for becoming sexier with each passing year. "I think men become more mature with age and experience. I think that makes director Woo the most attractive," said Leung, who turned 46 on Friday, drawing laughter from the room.

Woo said Kaneshiro was made for the role of a smart, handsome and jovial 27-year-old Zhuge Liang. The Japanese actor, 34, said playing an intellectual spared him the trouble of wearing heavy armor and doing action during the hot weather, but having to focus on subtle facial expressions was tough.

The director said that he always kept an eye on Chang, who seemed to be made for the role as a charismatic leader. While Chang is familiar to many through Ang Lee's martial arts story, the 31-year-old considers this his first "genuine period piece."

"The other films had a very contemporary feel to them. But this is based on history and I felt a lot of pressure to convince the audience, many of whom grew up reading the original novel. But after meeting the director and reading the script I really became attached to my character and enjoyed the transformation he goes through. I also loved wearing the ornate period dress and felt like I was really living during that time," said Chang.

The director went on to introduce Lin, who he said was not only a stunning Asiatic beauty, but also a warm-hearted person who actively volunteers to help AIDS victims in Africa. "I believe that a beautiful woman is not only attractive on the outside but also strong-willed," said Woo. The 34-year-old former model said she felt nervous about her acting debut and also some pressure to personify a woman whose beauty was great enough to cause a war. But said she saw fortitude as her character, who was very humane and ordinary.

Woo said he wanted to capture a very human sketch of historical heroes and looks forward to sharing "Red Cliff" with the audience.

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Red Cliff

By Derek Elley, Variety Movie Reviews

Posted: Sun., Jul. 20, 2008, 1:44pm PT

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 (China)/Avex Entertainment (Japan)/CMC Entertainment (Taiwan)/Showbox (South Korea)/John Woo presentation of a Lion Rock Prods. production.

(International sales: Summit Entertainment, Los Angeles.) Produced by Terence Chang, Woo. Executive producers, Han Sanping, Wu Kebo, Masato Matsuura, Ryuhei Chiba, Huang Chin-wen, Kim Woo-taek, Ryu Jeong-chun. Co-producers, Anne Woo, Zhang Daxing, Yeh Ju-feng, David Tang, Wang Wei, Cheri Yeung. Directed by John Woo. Screenplay, Woo, Khan Chan, Kuo Cheng, Sheng Heyu.

Zhou Yu - Tony Leung Chiu-wai Zhuge Liang - Takeshi Kaneshiro Cao Cao - Zhang Fengyi Sun Quan - Chang Chen Sun Shangxiang - Vicki Zhao Zhao Yun - Hu Jun Gan Xing - Shido Nakamura Xiao Qiao - Lin Chi-ling Liu Bei - You Yong Lu Su - Hou Yong Sun Shucai - Tong Dawei Li Ji - Song Jia Guan Yu - Basenzabu Zhang Fei - Zang Jinsheng Huang Gai - Zhang Shan Cao Hong - Wang Hui Jiang Gan - Shi Xiaohong Kong Rong - Wang Qingxiang Emperor Xian - Wang Ning Lady Mi - He Yin

One of the most ballyhooed Asian productions in recent history, and the most expensive Chinese-language picture ever, John Woo's costume actioner "Red Cliff" scales the heights. First seg of the two-part, $80 million historical epic -- with "The Battle of Red Cliff" to follow in late January -- balances character, grit, spectacle and visceral action in a meaty, dramatically satisfying pie that delivers on the hype and will surprise many who felt the Hong Kong helmer progressively lost his mojo during his long years stateside. Pic may, however, disappoint those looking for simply a costume retread of his kinetic, '80s H.K. classics.

Film is pitched more at an older demographic than traditional Asian youth auds, and the July 10 release (in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea) faces heavy competition from other summer titles after its first frame. But robust initial returns point to the two-parter putting black ink on most investors' ledgers - apart, maybe, from Japanese investor Avex, who bankrolled more than half the budget. Non-Asian returns look to be much smaller, especially as in the West the whole 4 1/2-hour movie will be available only in a single, 2 1/2-hour version that could end up losing much of the character detail that motors the production.

Detailing an incident familiar to auds throughout Asia, the script by Woo and three other writers mixes elements from history (as recorded in a third-century chronicle by Chen Shou), the freely fictionalized classic "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" by 14th-century scribe Luo Guanzhong and their own filmic imagination into a dramatic stew that has engendered beaucoup debate among Asian specialists and auds who already have their own ideas about the characters from multiple comicbook treatments, TV drama series and school textbooks. However, given that these often contradict each other - even down to details of who were the good and bad guys -- pic always faced an uphill battle pleasing everyone.

But the picture indisputably works on its own terms. Though this first part is a long warm-up to the part two naval battle on the Yangtze River that saw the forces of the North rebuffed by those of the South, it contains more than enough action and drama to justify its length, as well as a cliffhanger ending that leaves auds hungry for more.

Yarn opens in summer AD 208, with prime minister-cum-general Cao Cao (powerful mainland Chinese vet Zhang Fengyi) asking permission from Han dynasty Emperor Xian (Wang Ning) to lead an expedition south to take on "rebellious" warlords Liu Bei (You Yong) and Sun Quan (Taiwan thesp Chang Chen). Jittery mood in the imperial court sets the stage for the political machinations that marble the whole movie -- and forecasts the period of turmoil, known as the Three Kingdoms, that followed the imminent collapse of the 400-year-old Han dynasty.

Socko 20-minute action sequence, as Cao Cao's massive army sweeps south and meets Liu's forces in the Battle of Changban, establishes the gritty, chaotic tone of the movie's land warfare. Cool, almost grungy color processing, and action that's exaggerated but not manga-like, are underpinned by ace art director Tim Yip's realistic costumes and design. There's no clear sense of geography in the skirmishes, but maybe that's the point.

As Liu & Co. lick their wounds after their retreat, Liu's canny strategist, Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) proposes an alliance between him and Sun Quan vs. Cao Cao's seemingly unstoppable forces. Pic's second act broadens here, establishing the nervous, indecisive character of Sun Quan, his tomboyish sister, Sun Shangxiang (lively mainland babe Vicki Zhao) -- and last but not least, Sun Quan's commander, Zhou Yu (Hong Kong heartthrob Tony Leung Chiu-wai).

The appearance, 40 minutes in, of toplined Leung (a last-minute replacement for Chow Yun-fat) adds some real emotional heft to the drama. Though not the most physically imposing thesp in the cast, Leung is easily the subtlest, and the character's musical interests add extra layers to what, until then, has been simply a sturdy historical actioner.

Main cast has few weak links and traverses all shades of character. Zhang and Leung dominate the movie, while Kaneshiro is fine as wily strategist Zhuge and Zhao adds welcome humor as the feisty princess. Chang is a tad lightweight in such company as the wimpish Sun, and Taiwanese super-model Lin Chi-ling mostly decorative as Zhou's wife. Multitude of colorful supports is led by Mongolian actor Basenzabu as a warrior who's a one-man moving mountain.

Dark-toned color processing doesn't glamorize the period and adds gravitas to many of the youthful actors. Japanese composer Taro Iwashiro's multi-faceted score -- brazzy, playful, lyrical by turns -- adds real dramatic clout throughout. Visual effects are just OK.

Version caught in South Korea (cut by local distrib-investor Showbox) was nine minutes shorter than that shown in Chinese-speaking territories, with a couple scenes shortened, including a calligraphy sequence prior to Zhou making love to his wife. Japanese version, to be released later this year, will also be shorter than Woo's 140-minute cut.

Camera (CineLabs Beijing color, widescreen), Lu Yue, Zhang Li; editors, Angie Lam, Yang Hongyu, Robert A. Ferretti; music, Taro Iwashiro; production-costume designer, Tim Yip; sound (Dolby Digital), Roger Savage; sound designer, Steve Burgess; visual effects supervisors, Craig Hayes, Kevin Rafferty; visual effects, The Orphanage, CafeFX, Hatch Prod.; stunt supervisor, Dion Lam; stunt co-ordinator, Guo Jianyong; assistant directors, Albert Cho, Richard L. Fox, Thomas Chow; secnd unit directors, Zhang Jinzhan (army battles), Patrick Leung (naval battle); action director, Corey Yuen; casting, Cheng Jie. Reviewed at CGV Bucheon 3, South Korea, July 19, 2008. Running time: 131 MIN.
With: Jiang Tong, Kou Shixun, Li Hong, Menghe Wuliji, Wang Yuzhang, Zhang Yi, Wu Qi, Chen Changhai, Zhao Chengshun, Wang Zaolai, Xie Gang, Yi Zhen, Jia Hongwei, Guo Chao, Cui Yugui, Xu Fengnian, Ma Jing, Hu Xiaoguang, Ye Hua. (Mandarin dialogue)

Contact Derek Elley at
Date in print: Mon., Jul. 28, 2008, 12:00am PT


Woo will never top his classics, but this comes close
by Stephen Cole

Source: Globe & Mail (Toronto, Canada). (Dec. 4, 2009): Arts and Entertainment: pR10.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2009 The Globe and Mail Inc.


Red Cliff (Chi Bi)

Directed by John Woo

Written by John Woo, Chan Khan, Kuo Cheng

and Sheng Heyu

Starring Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Zhang Fengyi Classification: 14A


Fans know the story: John Woo was a lonely Christian kid who grew up in Hong Kong, keeping soul alive with movies and bible study. He wanted to be a minister. Taught ball-room dancing. Falling into action movies, Woo equipped gangsters with the pistols of his Hollywood western heroes and created a uniquely stylized genre - gun-fu films with balletic action sequences and Christian imagery.

Woo's best Hong Kong movies: The Killer (1991) and Hard-Boiled (1992) are wondrous creations - florid, delirious film raptures. Then came the inevitable Hollywood comeuppance. Face/Off was okay. Mission: Impossible II made money. But by the middle of this decade he was designing video games.

Now the good news: In 2007, Woo returned home to recreate the tumultuous battles that marked the end of the Han Dynasty. Just under five hours, Red Cliff (Chi Bi) was a sensation in China, out-earning Titanic. The 21/2-hour North American version is finally out. As expected, it has gaping holes where back stories used to be. Still, it's a historical war movie with impressive sweep, strong characterizations and the kind of idiosyncratic flourishes that made Woo such an irresistible storyteller.

One quirk would be how the filmmaker, a Los Angeles native since 1993, conducts war as a football coach. Woo even includes a scene of ancient Chinese kickball, with hulking brutes pounding about in what looks like a Madden, NFL 220 AD video game. Elsewhere, generals of two armies huddle up and scheme elaborate plays to combat China's most illustrious and aggressive warlord Cao-Cao (Zhang Fengyi, Farewell My Concubine). One military leader, Zhou Yu (Tony Leung, Hard-Boiled) even employs a special teams coach, Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro, House of Flying Daggers), who keeps track of the wind's direction - an important consideration for armies (and football teams) that rely on an aerial attack.

The film reminds us of Woo's greatest Hong Kong films. The generals' relationship is a meditation on honour. And, as always, the director choreographs violence as dance. Battles are often shot from above and unfold like elaborate, swirling Busby Berkeley production numbers.

Fans will be pleased to know that there are several scenes here where good guys stand back to back, battling the hordes and impossible odds - the classic Woo warrior pose. And yes, there are doves of peace and sad, lovely women who inspire heroism. Although the doves and heroines are a lot more bloody minded than we're used to seeing from the Hong Kong director.

All that said, Red Cliff is not quite vintage Woo. The Killer and Hard-Boiled are the films of a fevered artist. Had he stayed in Hong Kong, it's unlikely the director would have attempted to top them. Indeed, he might have lapsed into hallucinatory despair had he tried.

Red Cliff remains worth watching, however. Especially for fans of brawling, big screen spectacles. The principal actors - Leung, Kaneshiro and Fengyi - deliver commanding performances. And few filmmakers know how to fill a large canvas with colour and excitement like John Woo. His latest is the rare blockbuster worth busting a few blocks over.


'Red Cliff': Megastars Bring Mega Action

Jul. 3, 2008 (The Korea Times delivered by Newstex) -- By Lee Hyo-won

Staff Reporter

Finally. Asian cinema sees the birth of a movie with the grandeur i[logical not] in both budget and inspiration i[logical not] of epic franchises like "The Lord of the Rings." "Mission Impossible II" and "Face/Off" helmer John Woo brings "Red Cliff" ("Chi Bi" in Chinese), a pulsating, two-part battle flick based on the historical tome "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms."

To drive up the heat, it stars not one but three iconic actors: Tony Leung ("Lust, Caution"), Takeshi Kaneshiro ("House of Flying Daggers") and Chang Chen ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.").

This $80 million co-production by South Korea's Showbox/Mediaplex is yet another story about the three warring ancient Chinese states. Recently, there was another domestic production geared for a pan-Asian audience, "Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon" with Andy Lau and Maggie Q. "Red Cliff" not only satisfies those who grew up reading the novel, but will also appeal to a wider audience.

One thinks of the term: "man's reach exceeds his grasp." The efforts of the director to push on i[logical not] even after surpassing the original budget halfway through the shoot and pouring every penny of his own funds into the project i[logical not] bear fruit because the movie is built upon a strong foundation. A classic story comes to life through a beautiful, well crafted mise-en scene with memorable characters and a believability that stems from a delicious mix of realism and fantasy.

At first, the string of characters and crisscrossed political tensions may baffle those unfamiliar with the original tale. But it's quite simple. The evil and ambitious Gen. Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi) manipulates the puppet king of the Wei Kingdom to wage war against the rival states of Shu and Wu. The latter two join hands against their common enemy, but are seriously outnumbered by Cao Cao's million-men army.

But with the charismatic leadership of Gen. Zhou Yu (Tony Leung), the strategic thinking of scholar Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and the support of fiery emperor Sun Quan (Chang Chen), they manage to declare a small victory. While Cao Cao scoffs at this as no big deal, it adds fuel to his fury. Beneath Cao Cao's reunification efforts is a Helen of Troy-like (NASDAQ:HELE) tug of war; he lusts after Gen. Zhou Yu's beautiful wife (played by model-turned-actress Li Chiling) and is determined to claim her as part of his conquest.

Now, the climactic maritime battle by the Red Cliff will determine their fate.

Breathtaking, state-of-the-art battle formations fill the screen. Think of the computer game "Starcraft" supersized in real action plus alpha. You're inspired to cheer for your favorite hero; each with their own distinctive fighting personalities. One hero dives headfirst into a group of soldiers unarmed, siezes a spear in mid-trajectory and kills the enemy with it.

But the film ensures quality as well as quantity. Hefty action sequences are knit together with delightful detail, including poetic animal imagery. While the Asian-ness of movies like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" caters to a Western audience, "Red Cliff" captures the heart and soul of the Asian philosophy with a more universal appeal.

In addition to Woo's Hollywood-perfected directorship, the movie brings together more talent from the West: Craig Hayes, computer graphics guru of "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Superman Returns" and "The Matrix"; Corey Yuen, action director for "X-Men"; and Timmy Yip, set and costume of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

"Red Cliff" opens in Asian theaters July 10 and the second part of the movie will follow in December. 15 and over. 132 minutes. In Chinese with Korean subtitles. Distributed by Showbox/Mediaplex.
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