RED CLIFF Pt 1 (war epic in Mandarin)
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Chang Chen, Zhang Fengyi and Vicky Zhao
Director: John Woo
Time: 130 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)
WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? It seems like the 'Curse of the Oriental Film-maker' has struck again. Isn't it a curse that everytime a Chinese film-maker gets a huge budget to make a movie, he splashes it all on the sets, splendour and stunts and completely forgets about character development and the narrative? It happened with Zhang Yimou and his 'Hero'; Ang Lee and 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'; and now, John Woo and 'Red Cliff Part One.'
With its US$80 million (RM250mil) budget, 'Red Cliff' is the most expensive Chinese movie ever made. Sure, it has lots to show for the money - but not much to engage the viewer in terms of tension, suspense and other elements of viewer participation. Every scene is great to look at, but none that touches us. If you have seen 'Three Kingdoms: Resurrection Of The Dragon' you may find that it has more interactive elements than this one.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The movie is based on historical records of "The Chronicles of the Three Kingdom" rather than the novel, "Romance of the Three Kingdom". During the Han Dynasty of AD 208, the land of Wu is invaded by Han Prime Minister Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi) and his 800,000-strong army. The ruler of Wu, Sun Quan (Chang Chen), calls on the rival warlord Liu Bei (You Yong) for help, but their two armies are still badly outnumbered. However, Commander Zhou Yu (Tony Leung) and Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) realise that Cao Cao's army is not used to warfare on the water. With 200,000 men, Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang set off to battle Cao Cao's army on the Yangtze River.
HITS & MISSES: The obvious irritant here is that the show closes with a 'To be Continued' legend just when we get all set for the big showdown. We have to wait until December for 'Part Two' - while the film-makers have cut a three-hour film for Western audiences. Another irritant is that the battle scenes are rather confusing as those who are not familiar with the Romance of the Three Kingdoms would not know what the fuss is all about. Indeed, the battle scenes are mind-boggling in their logistics. The Chinese Army provided 1,000 men to play extras in the battle scenes. And when the camera 'flies' over the battlefield, or over Cao Cao's vast naval armada on the Yangtze, we can see how the money is spent. Indeed, John Woo must have had a whale of a time showing off his artistic side.
Not so for the cast, though. Tony Leung has a few captivating moments, especially with Taiwanese newcomer Lin Chi Ling (who plays Xiao Qiao, the face that launches a thousand ships). However, if you expect to see some of the usual 'Lusty' stuff with Tony Leung, you will be disappointed. So will fans of model Lin. Takeshi too is wasted, his role reduced to just waving his feathery fan and nodding every now and then.
THE LOWDOWN: Shown in parts, Red Cliff could have been another epic like Lord Of The Rings, if John Woo had paid more attention to the smaller picture too.