‘Red Cliff’ more than just style


No doubt, many viewers are going to be comparing Red
— director John Woo’s sword-and-silk spectacular based on an epic
battle that took place in southern China in 208 A.D. — to 300, Zack
Snyder’s high-tech reimagining of the infamous tussle at Thermoplyae in ancient

Both center on righteous good versus tyrannical evil. Both
feature underdog yet stout-hearted commanders going up against better equipped
yet slavish hordes. Both sport legions of CGI warriors ready to wage war until
digital death.

Yet, whereas 300 was all about great style,
neck-hewing violence and six-pack abs, the somewhat more contemplative yet still
visually ravishing and violent Red Cliff catches its breath once in
awhile to tell a story and is all the better for it, even if it is equally
stylized and far-fetched.

The tale is pretty simple: The emperor Han (Wang Ning) sends
his powerful general Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang) far to the south to put down
rebellious warlords Sun Quan (Chen Chang) and Liu Bei (You Yong). But neither
Quan nor Bei are intimidated and decide to combine forces, resulting in a
sprawling ground and naval clash infused with elements of guerilla warfare.

Heading up the fight for the good guys is Zhou Yu (Tony
Leung), who just happens to be married to “the most beautiful woman”
in China, Xiao Qiao (Chiling Lin), a fact that has not escaped Cao Cao who
wants Xiao Qiao for himself.

With its $80 million budget, Red Cliff is billed
as the most expensive Asian film in history and it has been a big hit on that
continent. It’s also sparked a career revival of sorts for Woo (Mission
Impossible II
, Face Off), who hasn’t released a full-length
feature since the less-than-well-received Paycheck six years ago.

Here, he has returned in strong form even if he still relies
on storytelling tics — the release of white birds, a warrior fighting with a
baby on his back, two warriors at an impasse with weapons drawn on each other —
that are now cliche in his films. But these moments don’t obscure the movie’s
many other wide-screen pleasures.

Welcome back, John.

Red Cliff

4 stars

Director: John Woo

Cast: Tony Leung, Fengyi Zhang, You Yong, Chiling Lin

Running time: 147 min.

Rated: R (scenes of epic warfare)

Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.