Written on: 01/10/2010 by eljazz (12 reviews written)
Oh John Woo.
Once the greatest Hong Kong director in decades churning out masterpieces like The Killer and Hard Boiled he was lured away to Hollywood where he thought international stardom would come. It did of course, but at a cost. Soon he discovered that the kind of violence shown in his works were tied by rules in the west and, add to that, a Chinese director making Chinese films in the style of American movies was a stroke of genius, a Chinese director making American movies in the style of American movies quite frankly proved to be rubbish. With the exception of Face Off (no damn you it's a work of art) he created flop after flop (with even the successful films being utterly embarrassing - MI:2 I'm looking at you) and it was no surprise when he packed his bags and returned home.
So Red Cliff eh? What do we have here? Well on first glance it seems like another visual and heart breaking stunner in the vein of Crouching Tiger, Hero or House of the Flying Daggers. But whilst the afore mentioned films were poetic sombre and dream like this is well this is John ass kicking Woo baby!
Expect to see explosions, slow motion, people jumping from horses whilst (oh yes) firing their bow and arrows. Expect to see some enjoyable plot twists an utterly evil bad guy (starting a war so he can seduce a foe's wife) and finally, expect to see a dual wielding hero. DO NOT expect to see John Travolta or Nic Cage.
Unfortunately usual Woo cohort Chow Yun Fat dropped out in pre production (due to contractual disagreements with the suits) but was replaced by the always awesome Tony Leung and he plays the part with the same charm that you'd expect from the absent Hard Boiled star.
Red Cliff itself is a visual explosion. Huge numbers of extras on screen reinforces its 'epic' intentions and the score and sound effects are sub bass woofer awesome. The acting is top notch and, though the plot is complex (the western version of the film is two feature length parts combined into one) it's consistently intriguing and the direction relentless. However John Woo's first Chinese film since 1992 falls just short of being a masterpiece.
Red Cliff is at times rather confusing. Very similar names make large sections of conversation seem like we're talking about one person to learn later we were discussing another. The nature of battle, unless you're having two men running at each other whilst sticking to the same side of the screen, is always a bit hard to follow and, as this makes up 70 percent of the movie and consists of tens of thousands of soldiers hacking at each other, Red Cliff's epic battles often wash over you.
Regardless it's hard not to love this film. It's both an ancient China epic and a John Woo movie and even better - this crazy combination actually works.