Red Cliff

Red Cliff

2009, R, 148 min. Directed by John Woo. Starring Tony Leung, Zhang Fengyi, Yong You, Chang Chen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Chiling Lin, Zhao Wei, Hu Jun, Shidou Nakamura.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 22, 2010

Hollywood has not served Hong Kong action auteur Woo well since his move to the U.S. for 1993's Jean-Claude Van Damme movie Hard Target. That was just one year after the director's maximum opus Hard-Boiled delivered on its promise to become the most exciting thing in the history of the British crown colony's wildly popular (and lucrative) cops vs. gangsters genre. Woo's stateside time has been less than bracing, with only 1997's Face/Off coming anywhere near the holy-shit-did-I-just-see-that?! bullet-riddled ballet of Woo's better yesterdays. No one, of course, has ever accused Woo of being unsentimental, either – raised a strict Catholic, virtually all of his films feature at least one shot of a covey of white doves flapping heavenward, and his cops and robbers are always closer at heart than either audience or character might think. Red Cliff, now the biggest box-office smash in Chinese history (sinking Titanic), is being buzzed as Woo's return to form, although it should be noted that what American audiences are seeing is a condensed version of Woo's original cut, down to slightly more than two-and-a-half hours from five. (Not so much, really, when you stop to consider that the 14th century novel the film is based on runs some 800,000 words.) In some respects it is a return to the ballistic ballets of Hong Kong-era Woo, only this time the projectiles are sheathed in quivers instead of shoulder holsters: Tens of thousands of arrows darken the sky as Woo's epic retelling of an ancient Chinese battle unfolds. So many are the tactical twists and strategy turns that shake the pillars of heaven throughout that I'm tempted to synopsize the whole thing as Dresden on the Yangtze and let you have at it, already. But the story, which involves the desire of the Han Dynasty's prime minister-turned-general Cao Cao (Zhang) to unite all of China, including the quarrelsome area run by the warlord Sun Quan (Chang, of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) down south. Having already routed the army of provincial leader Liu Bei (Yong), the greedy if bloodily efficient Cao Cao heads south with 1 million men to stamp out the now-united, 30,000-plus armies of Sun and Liu. That's all you need to know about the labyrinthine plot structure of Red Cliff, but the true stars of the film are Liu Bei's uncannily successful military strategist, Zhuge Liang (Kaneshiro) and the tactics he devises for the southern insurgency. These include (but are not limited to) astute meteorological forecasting, clever use of a tortoise, and whip-smart flanking movements. (Cao Cao, for his part, devises an early version of biological warfare and clandestine psychological operations.) Leung turns up as a southern viceroy, and so do those doves – or carrier pigeons as the case may be – but the real reason to see this behemoth of a battle is its epic scale. You may have the biggest flat-screen DLP monitor in the city, but Red Cliff will never look half as spectacular as it will on the big – and I mean really big – screen.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More John Woo Films
Paycheck
Affleck and Uma race to descramble the past in this futuristic thriller based on a Philip K. Dick short story and directed by John Woo.

Marc Savlov, Jan. 2, 2004

Hard Boiled
(This print of Hard Boiled is John Woo's “director's cut” which includes several extra minutes deleted from the initial release print. Let's see... that ought ...

Marc Savlov, Sept. 10, 1993

More by Marc Savlov
Vanquish
Wooden Wick knock-off wastes Ruby Rose's star power

April 16, 2021

Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**cker
Inside the creativity and fury of the artist provocateur

March 26, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Red Cliff, John Woo, Tony Leung, Zhang Fengyi, Yong You, Chang Chen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Chiling Lin, Zhao Wei, Hu Jun, Shidou Nakamura

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle