April 30, 2010

Red Cliff 1 & 2 Review

Red Cliff 1 & 2
Directed by John Woo
(This is a review of the Asian edition.)

I didn't like Chinese History while I was in high school, so it should come as a surprise that 4 hours of just one fraction of the illustrious events that happened in the Communist country's history is... something I really, really liked.

Based on events surrounding the tyrannical reign of Cao Cao, Red Cliff depicts the steps that were taken by two oppressed countries to combat the onslaught of the general's intimidating army. You could call it China's own 300. But so much better.

Since the movies were released as a two-parter in Asia (with each movie lasting two hours), Americans who watched the heavily abridged version may find the review to be a bit different than what critics from, say, Rotten Tomatoes think. Truly, the additional 2 hours of story and action make all the difference.

It's true that the characters don't get fully fleshed out, but it's obvious that the personality development is there. I mean, a lot happens from the start of the war to the end; camaraderie is formed, trust is established, and courage is obtained. I don't want to elaborate more on this, but all I want to say is that you'll have much reason to root for the underdog.

You'll be able to see how they form their strategies, and how conveniently observant they can be. You'll be able to marvel at the painstaking amount of detail they go to to be one step ahead of Cao Cao's army, and how they significantly reduce the tyrant's army's number despite small numbers.

A lot of the time, the film is entertaining and thrilling, and your eyes will be glued to every frame, delicately composed with a bit of the stylish visual flair John Woo has been known for.

As usual, action choreography is excellent, and the build-up for these epic battles pay off extremely well. They're gratuitous but not disgusting, they're exciting but not edited like a music video and a lot of the battle strategies are just unlike anything you've ever seen. One of the biggest highlights is especially the "Turtle" formation, which is one of the most novel twists on these kinds of battles in some time.

I've watched these movies months before today, but the feeling of watching these movies stay with me, if only partly because of my surprise due to the historical context, which usually bores me to death in Chinese films. A must-see in every sense of the word.

Rating: 8.5/10

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