Directed by John Woo. Starring Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro. In Mandarin with English subtitles. Rated 14A. Opens Friday, December 4, at the Cinemark Tinseltown
With Red Cliff, John Woo officially throws his hat into the big-budget sword-and-silk ring after a decade of wasting his talents on a series of generally lacklustre Hollywood productions that never came close to matching his best Hong Kong efforts. Woo has returned to the land of his birth and set to work with a vengeance.
Watch the trailer for Red Cliff.
Set during the Han dynasty, this expensive-looking movie describes the efforts of a group of rebels to prevent the Southland from being conquered by a ruthless prime minister named Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi). To stave him off, rival warlords Sun Quan (Chang Chen) and Liu Bei (You Yong) unite their forces under the command of Gen. Zhou Yu (Tony Leung). Although greatly outnumbered by both land and sea, these dissidents can count on the assistance of Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro), a brilliant military strategist who fights with his brain, not his brawn.
As is to be expected, the battle scenes are prolonged and spectacular. In his crime dramas, Woo borrowed mainly from the works of Jean-Pierre Melville and Sam Peckinpah. Here he finally gets the chance to pay homage to his third major influence, Akira Kurosawa.
As is usual in epics of this kind, the cast is pan-Asian (the producers know where the cash registers are going to be ringing the most), and for once Woo uses women as more than just sentimental window-dressing (although he’s clearly not all that comfortable doing it).
The production design is marvellous, and the digital effects are impressive. If a better popcorn movie was released this year, I certainly didn’t see it. John Woo, welcome home!