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2008/2009 - Red Cliff
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Joined: 16 Dec 2004
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 04, 2008 9:05 am    Post subject:

Los Angeles Times

A return to Asian film

Director John Woo has high hopes for the historical epic 'Red Cliff,' his first Chinese movie in 16 years.

By Min Lee

Associated Press

July 4, 2008

HONG KONG -- After 16 years directing Hollywood movies, John Woo is returning to Chinese film with an ambitious two-part historical epic that he hopes will also appeal to Western audiences.

"Red Cliff," whose first installment is due out in Asia this month, is based on a famous battle in divided 3rd century China that saw 2,000 ships burned. It draws from a storied period in Chinese history that has spawned comic books and video games.

Expectations are high for the movie.

Loaded with Asian stars, including past Cannes winner Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Taiwanese-Japanese heartthrob Takeshi Kaneshiro, and backed by investors from China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, Woo says he has already spent more than $70 million on the project -- a huge sum by Asian filmmaking standards.

Hollywood trade publication Variety says "Red Cliff" is the most expensive Asian production ever.

Critical reception is also at stake for the director, who has not made a full-length movie since two lackluster Hollywood productions: the 2003 sci-fi flick "Paycheck" and the 2002 war film "Windtalkers."

Woo, a Hong Kong native who has made such hits as "Face/Off" and "Mission: Impossible II," has not directed a Chinese movie since the 1992 action thriller "Hard-Boiled."

It hasn't been an easy transition back to Chinese film.

The main stars of the movie, Leung and Chow Yun-fat, whom Woo cast as the iconic gangster Mark in his 1986 movie "A Better Tomorrow," backed out at the last minute, although Leung later returned to the cast.

A stuntman died in an accident, and torrential rains washed away part of an outdoor set in northern China.

Producer Terence Chang said it took time to navigate the Chinese film industry and for Woo's multinational crew to get used to working with Chinese crew members.

"It's not just the language barrier. They have to get used to each other's culture and thinking," Chang said.

Likening "Red Cliff" to "Gladiator" and "Troy," Woo said the largest scenes in the movie involved as many as 2,000 actors and crew members and that the two installments include about 1,300 special-effects shots.

Woo said he's wanted to make "Red Cliff" since finishing "A Better Tomorrow" but lacked the resources and technological expertise until now.,0,173837.story
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 04, 2008 9:08 am    Post subject:

Woo's $80 Million `Red Cliff' Has Recouped Costs, Producer Says

By Le-Min Lim

July 3 (Bloomberg) -- Investors in John Woo's blockbuster ``Red Cliff'' have recouped the $80 million spent making Asia's most expensive film, said producer Terence Chang.

The sale of the movie's distribution rights in Asia has covered its costs, Chang said in a phone interview. ``Red Cliff,'' a five-hour story about warring nations in China in 208 A.D. that waged an epic naval battle, is the first movie Woo has directed in Asia since he left Hong Kong for Hollywood two decades ago to make hits like ``Face/Off'' and ``Mission: Impossible II.''

``The scale, reach and appeal of this movie's subject matter is unprecedented in Asia,'' said Joseph Liao, production manager at Taiwan's CMC Entertainment Group, which invested $10 million in the project. The movie's other owners include state-run China Film Group, South Korea's Showbox Entertainment and Japan's Avex Entertainment Corp.

Liao said ``it's safe to assume'' CMC will recover its investment through the sale of screening rights. China Film and Showbox couldn't be reached for comment.

``Red Cliff'' will be edited into a 2 1/2-hour version for screening in Europe later this year. It will be shown in two parts for Asian audiences: the first is scheduled for Asia-wide release on July 10, the second is planned for late January. Producers are in talks with potential U.S. distributors, said Chang.

Loan Recovery

Standard Chartered Plc, which lent money against the film's earnings outside Asia, said the London-based bank is confident of recovering the loan soon, judging by distributor demand for the film in Europe. It won't disclose the financing terms, only that the loan was the biggest of its kind approved by the bank.

``We have had a good experience with this film,'' said Lee Beasley, director of creative industries at Standard Chartered, in an interview. ``It shows prospects for film financing in Asia, even for big-budget movies, are very promising.''

Movies in Asia have average budgets of $10 million or less, and are usually funded by studios and wealthy individuals. The opening of the mainland Chinese market has given Asian producers another incentive to boost spending and encouraged banks to finance projects. Hong Kong and India are among the biggest movie- production hubs outside the U.S.

India produces more than 1,000 films a year; Hong Kong made 50 movies in 2007, while Hollywood made about 300 pictures last year, industry figures showed.

For the film, Woo hired Hong Kong actor Tony Leung, winner of the best-actor award at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival; production designer Tim Yip, who worked on Academy Award winner ``Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon;'' and extras from the People's Liberation Army for the battle scene. Filming began in April 2007 and was plagued by problems from the start, culminating in the death of a Chinese stuntman on the set last month.

The death ``was the biggest regret of my career,'' said Woo at a press conference in Hong Kong on June 30. Woo, 62, said ``Red Cliff'' is his most important work to date and will test the appeal of a foreign-language film on a Chinese story outside Asia.

``To Asia, this is a historical epic,'' said Chang. ``To audiences outside Asia, they expect a big John Woo action film.''

Chang said the film will ``appeal to both groups.''
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 04, 2008 5:57 pm    Post subject:

07-03-2008 15:49

'Red Cliff': Megastars Bring Mega Action

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff Reporter

Finally. Asian cinema sees the birth of a movie with the grandeur ― in both budget and inspiration ― 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 ― even after surpassing the original budget halfway through the shoot and pouring every penny of his own funds into the project ― 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 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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PostPosted: Sat Jul 05, 2008 9:07 am    Post subject:

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 05, 2008 9:09 am    Post subject:

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 06, 2008 8:08 pm    Post subject:

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 07, 2008 6:52 am    Post subject:

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 07, 2008 8:40 am    Post subject:


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

'Red Cliff' ready for its closeup

John Woo epic to bow in Asia this week


'Red Cliff' will open in certain Asian territories before others. U.S. auds will see it in Jan.

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 2 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.
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 8:58 am    Post subject:

International Herald Tribune

AP Review: John Woo restores credibility to Chinese epics with 'Red Cliff'

The Associated Press

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

HONG KONG: A true epic needs more than the grandeur of its landscapes, the lavishness of its sets and the sheer manpower of its battle scenes: It needs a truly epic story.

John Woo displays the crucial distinction in the magnificently told "Red Cliff," the Hong Kong director's triumphant return to Chinese film after 16 years in Hollywood.

Using old-fashioned good storytelling, "Red Cliff" restores credibility to the genre of Chinese historical epics that have often been tainted by pointlessly large-scaled and action-packed productions.

Woo is helped by a wealth of source material. "Red Cliff" is based on a storied historical period that has inspired video games and comic books — third-century prime minister Cao Cao's quest to unite a divided China.

But the director breathes new life into Cao and the colorful cast of characters that oppose him.

There's the ruthless and arrogant Cao, who dishes out beheading orders casually and lusts after the wife of one of the resistance fighters; his main rival, the avuncular Liu Bei, who despite Cao's invasion still finds time to weave grass shoes; Liu's pudgy and hotheaded lieutenant Zhang Fei, who never hesitates to speak his mind.

Liu's ally, Sun Quan, is a young ruler who struggles to find his confidence living under the shadow of his accomplished late brother and father.

Woo takes the time to introduce anecdotes that define each character. The epic battle scenes involving scores of extras and enhanced by special effects are still there — including a complex fight centered on a maze-like military formation — but most of "Red Cliff" is spent filling out the rich cast of characters.

The director is so keen on building an epic story that he even leaves the final showdown between the two sides to a second installment. "Red Cliff," which will be released in Asia this month, is the first part. The sequel will be released in December.

Woo's grand narrative justifies the two-parter. In "Red Cliff," he paints such a delightful ensemble of characters and sets up such a sharp contrast between the two opposing sides, bracing the audience for a titanic battle between Good and Evil in the sequel.

The outstanding storytelling and character building is reminiscent of "Star Wars." The story feels similarly epic; the characters similarly funky. Interestingly, the English subtitles cast Liu's side as the "rebels" and their opponents as the "empire" — the same terminology used in George Lucas' legendary sci-fi series.

And Woo injects humor and a modern sensibility into his characters, removing any feeling that these are outdated personalities hundreds of years old.

Japanese-Taiwanese heartthrob Takeshi Kaneshiro brings youthful playfulness and sarcasm to the role of Liu's famed military strategist, Zhuge Liang. At first glance, Kaneshiro lacks the gravitas to carry such an esteemed character in Chinese history, but he gives the character a unique, refreshing interpretation.

But the biggest surprise in the cast is Chinese actress Zhao Wei, who steals the show with her portrayal of Sun's spunky tomboy sister Sun Shangxiang, frustrated that her military ambitions are dismissed by the men around her.

With "Red Cliff," Woo shows he's still a masterful director to be reckoned with.

It's a feat made all the more outstanding by the difficulties he faced in the production. Two major stars — Chow Yun-fat and Cannes best actor winner Tony Leung Chiu-wai — dropped out at the last minute, although Leung later rejoined the cast. A stuntman died in an accident and torrential rains washed away part of an outdoor set in northern China.

It's unclear, however, if Woo's story can win over non-Asian audiences who are less familiar with the Chinese history. He is releasing a condensed, one-installment version in international markets. It remains to be seen if the abbreviated story will lose the character development and nuances that enabled "Red Cliff" to shine.
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 2:07 pm    Post subject:

The Standard

Woo makes best of past

A new US$70 million (HK$546 million) historical epic about a well-known war in ancient China is the most expensive Asian film production ever, according to Variety.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A new US$70 million (HK$546 million) historical epic about a well-known war in ancient China is the most expensive Asian film production ever, according to Variety.

Third- century epic Red Cliff, directed by Hong Kong's John Woo, premieres in Asia this month.

It is based on a famous battle in a divided China that saw 2,000 ships burned.

The film draws from a storied period in history that has spawned comics and video games.

"I aimed to present Chinese courage and the ability of the Chinese people to overcome challenges," Woo said in Taipei. "This is the work I am most proud of and satisfied with in my life."

He has not directed a Chinese movie since Hard-Boiled in 1992.

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 7:34 pm    Post subject:

A trailer on Tony:
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 10, 2008 8:57 am    Post subject:

Full house for "Red Cliff" on opening day

2008-07-10 14:16:56

BEIJING, July 10 -- The costliest Chinese film seems to have the potential to be the most profitable as well. John Woo's "Red Cliff" opened on Thursday, attracting a full house at almost every theater screening the film.

Theaters in Beijing, Chengdu, Hangzhou and many other cities reported unusually high attendance for the opening of the historical epic shortly after midnight on Thursday, reports.

Despite its grand premiere last week, it was the first time the two-hour and 20-minute film was screened in its entirety.

An audience member in Beijing told Sohu that she heard that John Woo had spent five years making "Red Cliff," which aroused her curiosity in the film.

Moviegoers were also impressed by the film's magnificence, Sohu says. "Red Cliff" is based on a well-known historical battle in 208 AD in which thousands of ships were burnt. The biggest scenes involved 2,000 actors and crew members, and around 1,300 special effects are used, an earlier report on Shanghai Daily says.

A few viewers on Thursday voiced disappointments that the lines spoken by these ancient characters were too modern, but Sohu found in a survey that generally speaking, the audiences gave the film a thumbs-up.

The lengthy film also left some fans feeling exhausted, yet John Woo has done his best to cut it short. The current release is just half of the "Red Cliff" series. Woo said before that it's very difficult to condense the story into two hours so he split it into two parts to allow more room for character development.

The second part is set for release in Asia in December, when Western audience will also get to see a single, condensed release.

The US$70 million "Red Cliff" is said to be the most expensive Chinese-language film ever made. Its star-heavy cast spans talents from Hong Kong, Taiwan and the mainland, including Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Lin Chi-ling, Zhao Wei and Hu Jun.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 10, 2008 8:59 am    Post subject:

Most expensive Asian film, "Red Cliff", set to be red hot at box office

2008-07-10 15:40:08

by Xinhua Writers Miao Xiaojuan, Wang Cong

BEIJING, July 10 (Xinhua) -- Reportedly Asia's most expensive ever film, the widely anticipated "Red Cliff", debuted in Beijing on Thursday with thousands staying up to see the first showings just after midnight.

Normally early-retiring Beijingers set aside their reservations about the midweek late night to sit through the two-and-a-half-hour first installment of the two-part battle epic -- and most gave it a warm welcome.

The 80-million-US-dollar historical drama opened in 48 Beijing cinemas under the Chinese title "Chi Bi" and was still drawing cinemagoers later on Thursday.

The Capital Times Cinema sold 186 tickets for the first show, compared with fewer than 10 tickets for the midnight opening of the Hollywood blockbuster Ironman in late April, said a security official surnamed Liu.

About 1,000 seats in UME Huaxing International Cineplex were taken, and New Capital Cinema sold all 1,730 tickets, most of which were bought by an IT company.

"I think the movie is worth watching," said 18-year-old Zhen Li, who sat the national college entrance examination last month. "The grand martial scenes and the heroes' integrity are really impressive. But I found some minor mistakes concerning historical facts and I hope next time the director will pay more attention to detail."

The first episode of "Red Cliff" opened across Asia on Thursday, and its second episode is set to be released in December. By then, a condensed version covering both episodes will also be released outside of Asia.

"I am looking forward to the second episode, for sure," Zhen said.

A woman surnamed Zhang expressed concern that the heroes' characters failed to match historical accounts. "Maybe the style is more likely to be favored by young people, because of its humor and all-star cast," she said.

New Capital Cinema manager Yu Chao said the film was sold out again on Thursday morning. "We'll screen the movie so long as enough people want to see it and we'll arrange the schedule according to the market," said Yu.

The movie revolves around the epic Battle of Red Cliffs in 208 AD, a decisive battle, immediately prior to China's Three Kingdoms period, between allied forces of the southern warlords Liu Bei and Sun Quan, and the numerically superior forces of the warlord Cao Cao.

The allied victory of Liu Bei and Sun Quan at Red Cliffs disrupted Cao Cao's plot to conquer the lands south of the Yangtze River. Liu and Sun's force of 50,000 defeated Cao's force of 800,000 and burnt 2,000 boats in the final battle.

The biggest scenes in the movie involved 2,000 actors and crew. Around 1,300 special effects were used, according to earlier media reports.

Award-winning Hong Kong actor Tony Leung, Taiwan supermodel LinChi-ling and Taiwanese-Japanese heartthrob Takeshi Kaneshiro are among the movie's A-list cast.

The China News Agency on Thursday quoted Xie Weijia, manager of the state-owned China Film Group Corporation, the main investor in the production, as saying, "The 80-million-U.S.-dollar investment makes Red Cliff the most expensive Asian-financed film ever."

"Generally I think the movie is okay, but the performance of Lin Chi-ling is a bit unnatural," Zhang Liangbei, author of several film-related books, including a biography of Taiwan director Ang Lee.

Zhou Liming , a critic for Movie Review magazine, doubted Red Cliff would win many fans in either the mainland or international markets.

"The story wasn't so interesting in the first episode. The actors and actress didn't perform so well either, but those special effects are good," said Zhou.

On July 2, the film premiered in Chengdu's Wu Hou Shrine, a top cultural heritage building, as part of campaign to raise public morale in the quake-hit region.

Hollywood-based Hong Kong director John Woo had told media he hoped it would be "a global blockbuster" and that Western cinemagoers would have a better understanding of Chinese culture, which was "more than Kungfu".

With "Red Cliff", Woo "shows he is still a masterful director to be reckoned with", Associated Press critic Min Lee wrote.

However, Lee noted it remained to be seen if Woo's story could win non-Asian audiences who are less familiar with the Chinese history.

Woo, 62, returned to depict the legendary battle of Red Cliff after he got his fame in Hollywood for his box-office hits like "Face/Off"(1997) and "Mission Impossible II"(2002).
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 10, 2008 3:18 pm    Post subject:

Making of:
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 10, 2008 4:22 pm    Post subject:

Taipei Times

[FILM REVIEW] Once more unto the breach

With 'Red Cliff,' John Woo restores credibility to Chinese epic filmmaking

By Ho Yi
Friday, Jul 11, 2008

Red Cliff (赤壁)

DIRECTED BY: John Woo (吳宇森)

STARRING: Tony Leung Chiu-wai (梁朝偉) as Zhou Yu, Takeshi Kaneshiro (金城武) as Zhuge Liang, Zhang Fengyi (張豐毅) as Cao Cao, Chang Chen (張震) as Sun Quan, Lin Chi-ling (林志玲) as Xiao Qiao, Hu Jun (胡軍) as Zhao Yun, Zhao Wei (趙薇) as Sun Shangxiang, Nakamura Shido as Gan Xing

LANGUAGE: In Mandarin with English subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 84 minutes (first of two parts)


With an US$80 million budget, which makes Red Cliff (赤壁) the most lavish Asian production to date, and a running time of more than four hours, which has seen the movie split into two installments, John Woo's (吳宇森) Chinese sword-and-sandals epic marks a triumphant return home for the director after 16 years in Hollywood.

Set in the Three Kingdoms period of China's history and centering on the legendary Battle of Red Cliffs (赤壁之戰), the epic sees Woo live up to his reputation as a masterful storyteller who reinvigorates a somewhat overworked and cliched genre with a good old-fashioned narrative developed by a rich cast of capable actors.

Set during the Han Dynasty's death throes, the film opens with shrewd Prime Minister Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi, 張豐毅) sending his million-strong army and a sizable fleet off on an unprecedently large campaign to forge a unified empire. Unable to match Cao's army, the benevolent exiled leader Liu Bei (You Yong, 尤勇) sends his military strategist Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro, 金城武) to secure an alliance with Sun Quan (Chang Chen, 張震), a southern warlord.

Buttressed by formidable warriors such as Zhao Yun, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu (Tony Leung Chiu-wai, 梁朝偉), Zhuge Liang successfully contrives to defeat Cao's vastly superior land force.

The victory proves to be Pyrrhic when the allied forces find themselves confronted by Cao's fleet of more than 2,000 warships anchored off shore. As the decisive battle looms, the two military masterminds scheme to secure victory.

Having opened in China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan yesterday, this is the diptych's first segment. The second part is scheduled for release in Asia in January of next year. The epic's lengthy running time is justified by Woo's grand narrative, which is told in the vein of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. With the filmmaking luxury of length, Woo defines his characters through anecdotes and slowly builds up the tensions and the contrasts between the two opposing sides, which culminate in a Good vs Evil finale.

Though there are lavish sets, spectacular choreography and massive battle scenes enhanced by CGI effects, it is the substantive narrative that sets Red Cliff apart from the glut of big-budget Chinese historical dramas that have been released in recent years.

Audiences quickly find themselves falling for the colorful ensemble of characters and become absorbed in the film's narrative threads, which are enlivened by imaginative camera work, fast-paced editing and superbly executed choreography. Even ancient China's military wisdom is made sexy and enthralling when Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tony Leung Chiu-wai take on the roles of master tacticians in a complex battle that involves a maze-like military formation.

Woo's unconventional interpretations of historical figures have caused controversy. Doubts serviced when the director cast Japanese-Taiwanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro as one of China's most revered scholars. If audiences expect the heartthrob to exude Chinese virtue and be the living embodiment of intellectuality, they'll be sorely disappointed. Instead, the actor gives the crusty character Zhuge Liang a playful update, bringing a sometimes slightly sissy young scholarly strategist to the big screen.

The casting of Taiwanese supermodel Lin Chi-ling (林志玲) also raised a few eyebrows, but she manages to hold her own in the film.

With Red Cliff, Woo proves that China's rapidly developing film industry has both the know-how and talent to make Hollywood-style blockbusters. The country also has a seemingly inexhaustible archive of historical narratives to plunder at will, so expect many more to follow. Hopefully, more will be as well-made as this one.
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