Red Cliff

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner11/06/2009

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 150 mins

Thrilling, beautifully shot and superbly acted, this is a return to form for director John Woo, who combines spectacular action sequences with suspenseful strategic twists and turns.

What's it all about?
Based on the most famous battle in Chinese history, which in turn was immortalised in the 14th-century novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Red Cliff is directed by John Woo and stars Zhang Fengyi as ruthless, power-hungry Prime Minister Cao Cao, who declares war on the empires of Xu, to the west, and Yu, to the south, in 208 AD, ostensibly with the goal of unifying China. However, Xu emperor Liu (You Yong) sends his ace strategist Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) to persuade Yu emperor Sun (Chang Chen) to unite against the invading forces.

As Cao Cao's forces advance along the Yangtze River, the allies set up camp at Red Cliff. Finding themselves helplessly outnumbered, Zhuge and Sun's viceroy Zhou Yu (Tony Leung) will have to use every ounce of cunning and strategy they possess in order to survive.

The Good
Released in two (longer) parts in China, this 150 minute international version moves along at a cracking pace, to the point where you never notice its lengthy running time. Once the various pieces are in place, the film becomes a thrilling battle of strategic wits, where victory or defeat can turn on something as seemingly trivial as a change in wind direction.

Woo orchestrates some extraordinary battle sequences, most notably a brilliant turtle formation sequence, a terrific sandstorm chase and a brilliant set-piece where Zhuge comes up with an inspired way of stealing ammunition from the enemy fleet.

The Great
The performances are excellent. Takeshi Kaneshiro is extremely compelling as the seemingly unflappable Zhuge and he has intriguing chemistry with Tony Leung, for which the word bromance wouldn't be entirely out of place. There's also strong support from Zhang Fenyi (who makes a great villain), Zhao Wei (as a feisty warrior princess) and Chiling Yin as Zhou's wife, with whom Cao Cao is dangerously obsessed.

Worth seeing?
Thrilling, clever, powerful and well acted, Red Cliff is the most enjoyable war epic in years and a welcome return to form for John Woo. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 18/01/2020 07:14

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