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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW
Red Cliff

Man-Made, Natural, and Dynastic


A scene from "Red Cliff", directed by John Woo.  The film opened today in the U.S. and Canada and is one of the year's best.
Magnet Releasing

By Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A filmmaking achievement as grand if not grander than any so far this year, John Woo's "Red Cliff" is both classic and epic.  Set in and based on the historic war in 208 A.D. marking the end of the Chinese Han dynasty, "Red Cliff" is at its most marvelous when depicting the tactical methods behind warfare, utilizing skill and knowledge of nature, which makes for a fascinating and ironic set of circumstances, though throughout this fine film man's destructive tendencies merge seamlessly with the calm of nature, forming one of the oddest yet most understandable yins and yangs one can expect in a film.  For Mr. Woo however, such badness and beauty have met many times, but here the harmony between them here is more restrained, far more more beautiful and less operatic.

The only bad news about "Red Cliff" is that it employs digital effects (but what film doesn't?) 

Mr. Woo brings his reliable alumnus Tony Leung on board after a near-20-year absence to star as Zhou Yu, an adviser to Sun Quan (Chang Chen), enlisted by a rival faction of soldiers governed by Liu Bei (You Yong) to defeat the imperious Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi), prime minister turned tyrannical general, looking to amass absolute power at any cost.  Shunting aside the Han Emperor, Cao Cao is on the verge of total dominance of empire.  First he needs to move south to vanquish the two rival armies who have banded together.

The performances by all involved are nothing short of admirable.  Each actor leaves his or her mark and play characters with pivotal roles.  The cinematography here (Lu Yue and Zhang Li) is first-rate as is Taro Iwashiro's music score, but it's Mr. Woo's masterful direction that is the big story.  He has a resolute visual splendor showcased in his direction that corresponds so well with the battery of ideas he presents onscreen, and is thoroughly adept at both the abstract and the concrete aspects of moments within scenes.  There's a spectacular, unbroken point-of-view bird-flying shot that is simply unbelievable even with its special effects.  There's a moment when a turtle takes center stage where a GEICO gekko would fear to tread.  And then there's so many more remarkable scenes in between.

Breathtaking sequences like the ones described put the vagaries of war in perspective and Mr. Woo, whose film is the most expensive Asian film production ever (as well as a mammoth hit on that continent) has crafted a very special war movie.  One can say David Lean, one may say John Ford, one might shout William Wyler, but Mr. Woo distinguishes himself so well with "Red Cliff".  There hasn't been such a great epic war movie quite like this in a long while.  Mr. Woo, who wrote the film with three other writers, doesn't splash his canvas with color or a frenzied camera, he shows a discipline and deliberation that impresses. 

The director's body of work, whether successful Hollywood efforts ("Face/Off", "Mission: Impossible 2") or disappointments ("Broken Arrow", "Windtalkers"), or many of his Hong Kong classic films ("Hard Boiled") are --  especially in the case of his previous Hong Kong work -- arguably rivaled by his newest adventure.  With "Red Cliff" Mr. Woo finds time for the humorous, the simplistic and the complex, all the while laying out a roadmap of scenes that fit together well, thanks to some impeccable editing by Angie Lam, Yang Hongyu and Robert A. Ferretti.

"Red Cliff" is an extraordinary film, one of this storied director's very best efforts.


With: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhao Wei, Hu Jun, Shidou Nakamura and introducing Chiling Lin.

"Red Cliff" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America  for scenes of epic warfare.  The film's running time is two hours and 47 minutes.  In Mandarin language with English subtitles.

Read more movie reviews and stories from Omar here.

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