STARRING Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei, Hu Jun DIRECTED BY John Woo SCREENPLAY Terence Chang, John Woo, Khan Chen, Kuo Cheng, Sheng Heyu MPAA RATING Rated R RUNNING TIME 148 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY Magnolia Pictures DVD EXTRAS The Making of an Epic: Red Cliff; Interview with John Woo; HDNet: A Look at Red Cliff; Storyboards
"Red Cliff" Review
It would be easy to write a one sentence review for Red Cliff, the latest film from director John Woo that is already the highest grossing film in China's cinematic history. In short, Red Cliff is the best film Woo has directed in years, a sweeping and visually hypnotic war epic featuring spectacular, truly spectacular battle scenes, an engaging love story and, perhaps most surprisingly, a majestic return to the John Woo of yesteryear.
Set in the 2nd century, Red Cliff evolves around two southern kingdoms uniting to prevent a sweeping attack from a nothern kingdom. The northern force is led by Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang), an ambitious and persuasive fighter who is targeting kingdoms led by a master tactician (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and a sort of peaceful warrior (Tony Leung), a fighter who believes that a battle fought with intelligence can lead to a wider peace.
Red Cliff features many of Woo's signature of cinema, for example the dove, yet the film itself is a turn away from the stylized, glossy filmmaking that Woo seemingly adopted once he came to Hollywood and abandoned the making of films in China. In this, his Chinese return, Woo creates a film unlike anything he manifested in Hollywood, a film so majestic and beautiful and soaring that it is difficult to fathom that it came from the same director who gave us Paycheck and Mission Impossible: II. Adapted from a Chinese novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Red Cliff actually played at nearly double its 2 1/2 hour US runtime in some Asian outlets. Filled to the brim with battle scenes, strategic martial arts scenes, wondrous landscapes comprised of a potpourri of weaponry and true brute force.
Yet, perhaps most surprisingly Woo and his team of screenwriters have managed to create soldiers and players who are so richly developed that even as we are enveloped by the film's action scenes we find ourselves engrossed in the lives of those who battle.
Tony Leung is powerful and involving as a sort of peaceful, poetic warrior who largely serves as the film's heroic figure, while Takeshi Kaneshiro shines as his compatriot, a more relentless soldier yet a masterful strategist. Together, they paint a masterful portrait of the art of war through humanity and through nature itself.
Production credits are stellar throughout with kudos going to Taro Iwashiro for an epic and complementary score and for sweeping, majestic camera work of Yue Lu and Li Zhang. Timmy Yip's production design and costuming nicely place the film squarely in the second century.
Those who've waited for Hollywood to produce a truly epic war film would do well to consider a trip to the local arthouse theatre where Magnolia Pictures is distributing Red Cliff in Landmark Theatres and other arthouse outlets nationwide.