Debbie and I have always said “a little Woo goes a long way.” Well this time John Woo has outdone himself with Red Cliff Parts 1 & 2.
Simply put, John Woo’s film, Red Cliff , Parts 1 & 2, in which he re-creates (at an $80 million dollar price tag, I might add) the oh so legendary battle of Red Cliff in 208 A.D., which ultimately led to the demise and fall of the notorious Han Dynasty, can only be described as a breathtaking war epic, edge of your seat cinematic masterpiece!!!
From the Prime Minister waging war against the western kingdom, in hopes of eliminating opposition and placing himself as sole ruler of his envisioned unified China, to the ironic friendships which flourished among an unlikely alliance, not to mention, the strategic genius of Infantry verses Naval wits, that culminate into one of the most famous battles in history.
Even for those of us who are not familiar with famous battles in history, though, this is a film to be cherished. The music alone is uplifting and invigorating. It could almost be described as Star Wars-like. The characters are much more finely drawn than you usually see in any blockbuster film and certainly more well developed than you would usually find in a war movie. And, although Red Cliff is about a famous battle, Woo does more, much much more, than cast this one battle in broad strokes. He goes beyond even Kurosawa in this respect. Kurosawa’s films are visually beautiful, painfully beautiful even, and every frame could be frozen and hung on the wall in a museum, quite frankly. But Woo takes time to savor the moment. I guess that’s why this film is broken up into two parts, each of which is two hours long…but they’re well worth it. They’re what make this film three-dimensional and human–more than just art but something that can touch the spirit.
For example: consider the moment when the army is ordered to stop the demonstration it is putting on for visiting dignitaries, all because the chief of defense has heard a flute playing out of tune in the hill over the training grounds. The chief of defense climbs the hill, while the entire army waits, frozen in place. He finds a boy and his grandfather. The boy is playing the flute. The chief of defense looks at him sternly, demands that he turn over the flute, takes a knife out of the boy’s belt, and fixes the flute. He then hands it back to the boy who finds that it is in much better tune now. He plays again and the army and visiting dignitaries all smile…and, as happens all the time in Red Cliff, this moment, which is carried out so sweetly, immediately gives way to another, in which–well, I won’t give away what happens this time, but the entire army ends up spontaneously kneeling in response to the boy’s grandfather suddenly kneeling. For a rag-tag army, many of whom we are told used to be pirates, such a spontaneous show of respect for the elderly is very touching.
Having said all of that, I have still only scratched the surface of what is so wonderful about this movie. There are the brilliantly creative tactics devised by the army’s chief strategist, when the army is running out of arrows, for instance. There is the chief strategist himself–if you haven’t seen the movie yet, I suggest you read the subtitles carefully whenever he has anything to say! There is the princess who refuses to play the role of a subservient woman–she responds to a proposal of marriage by punching her suitor and knocking him out, and then she proceeds to find her own way to defend her kingdom, leaving to become a spy on the other side, taking along pigeons to use in sending intelligence back across the Yangtze River. There is the general who saves his lord’s baby son, and proceeds to tie the baby on his back and ride into battle with him. There is the other general who manages to escape after being cornered by 30 or 40 men all pointing spears at him–he takes his own spear and flings it at the prime minister, then grabs one of the spears being pointed at his own throat, uses it to knock down the men in front of him (killing at least one along the way), runs straight at the prime minister and knocks his horse onto its side, then grabs his side’s flag from the ground, jumps on the horse as it stands up, grabs his spear (still standing up where he threw it) and rides off. The prime minister, at that point, lost in admiration, refuses to allow his men to counterattack…I have to stop here because Red Cliff is full of moments such as this. You’ll just have to watch the movie!
On a side note, I personally loved the fact that this film had sub-titles and was not dubbed. I found it to be more realistic and authentic to its true form and it did not come across as a watered down, been there and done that Hollywood Blockbuster. If you are a John Woo fan and are waiting to feast your eyes, ears and mind on a juicy mind-blowing, smack that A$$, who’s your daddy flick, then this is a MUST SEE EPIC! WHOA!!!!