It's A.D. 208 China. Rival states Shu and Wu join hands against their common enemy, the evil and ambitious General Cao Cao of the Wei kingdom, but are seriously outnumbered by his million-strong army. But with the charismatic leadership of Gen. Zhou Yu (Tony Leung), the perfect strategy of scholar Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro), and the support of emperor Sun Quan (Chen Chang), they manage to declare a small victory. While CaoCao scoffs at this as no big deal, it adds fuel to his fury.
Cast & Credits
I really dislike the word “epic”, I believe it’s over-used and misunderstood by many but if I can call a film epic then Red Cliff must be one of the fewest that are allowed to have that description. I saw the DVD release of Red Cliff back in 2009 so I initially thought it was only one film but later on, I re-watched them separately and I am able to judge each production on its own.
Now, as a usual part for my historical productions’ reviewing, I must give history credit and allow the film to be put in its exact temporal and special frameworks. It’s because I am history’ lover that I can’t help but narrate some facts that happened in real life thousands of years ago, so let’s have a little round in history before reviewing the film itself. You can always skip this part if you find it boring.
The year is 200 A.D, the late Han Dynasty and the place is the famous China. Cao Cao (Prime minister of the Han Dynasty), the most cunning, evil and fierce man in the Chinese history took control over Northern China and made the emperor a puppet ruler but that wasn’t enough so he decided to embark an attack on Southern China’s ruler Lord Liu Bei who is known by his generous deeds and strong general followers. Cao Cao led a huge army of eight hundred thousand soldiers to conquer the south which forced Liu Bei to seek alliances with other Southern Lords, the young ruler Sun Quan and military expert Zhou Yu. In order to convince them, Liu Bei sent his prime advisor and the most impressive strategist in Chinese history Zhuge Liang to accomplish the mission.
Cao Cao’s enormous army is constituted with surrendered lords so there was no loyalty and thus he always feared betrayals, which makes him envious of Liu Bei’s side that’s full of great generals that aren’t only loyal but they’re also quite strong. However, no matter how great the generals are, they’re massively outnumbered by Cao Cao’s army so how can they overcome it? The answer can be found out either by reading history or watching the film because I would be spoiling things if I mention it but let me warn you that this film doesn’t exactly provide the entire answer.
Enough with history, the film itself was well done in a way that would let you get to know what happened even without searching it up. The storytelling may not have been flawless in any way but it did deliver what has to be told. John Woo is known for his badass action films and I do agree that they’re his strength point but there are other elements that people forget or refuse to notice about his works such as the characterization. John Woo is a master at building his characters by using the brotherhood and honor elements and he didn’t change his rule in this film; he only reduced the amount.
What this film excels at beside the stunning cinematography is the war techniques. We get to see John Woo's interpretation of Zhuge Liang's "ba-gua" strategy, the fighting abilities of each general and the amazing portrayals of several wars’ strategy although the major battles were saved for the sequel. The use of slow motions and the clever built up of battles and action is an extreme plus point for this film.
The acting was high-class. It’s really challenging to find good actors who can give the famous historical figures their right characters and what’s best than Tony Leung, Kaneshiro Takeshi, Chang Chen, Fengyi Zhang and several great HKC actors for the job? They did quite well with their characters but I’ve got to give Tony higher credit for the way he made Zhou Yu feel so firm just like the history describes him to be. It’s one of my favorite Tony’s roles up to date.
There’s also Takeshi who made Zhuge Liang, which is one of my favorite historical figures ever, feel so vivid but maybe a little more too humorous than he should be. To be honest, I thought Takeshi was too “pretty” for the role. I like the guy, I really do and I believe he’s a great actor but I wasn’t too confident to see Liang being portrayed by him. However, after watching this, I was proven wrong and my doubts went into thin air.
The women department in this film felt a little unnecessary but still fitting. I liked Vicki Zhao’s casting and role but I am afraid I can’t say the same about the first big screen’s appearance of Lin Chi Ling.
The music for this film was pretty suitable for the theme and the rewatch value is high because this is one of the greatest films’ that deserve to be reviewed.
Watch this if:
-You like Chinese history or you like to get to know it more.
-You like war films’ because this is one of the best.
-You like John Woo’s films.
Do not watch if:
-You dislike war films.
-You dislike any of the cast.
Red Cliff is surely one of the greatest war films ever made with the touch of Asian history and some Hollywood cinematic techniques delivered by the master john Woo in the most beautiful way ever.
This review is for the first part of Red Cliff and the second part is coming up next.
This movie is a masterpiece, the battle scenes are epic and in particular, the choreography of the Yinyang/Tortoise formation was awesome and the high expectation for the final battle is something to look forward to but that will be in the second part of the movie. I loved all the war scenes in both movie.
The overall plot of the Red Cliff saga is similar to the American movie Troy, a host of invading army lead by an ambitious but love struck general will try to conquer 2/3 of China because of a girl. This first part covers the forming of the alliance of the 2 neighboring countries, and shows of human frailties and strengths of the defending leaders.
The cast were likewise outstanding, especially Takeshi Kaneshiro as the strategist who have a little knowledge of a lot of things.
Rewatch value is 10, well worthy of a second viewing.