Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
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Red Cliff (Chi Bi) (2008) Directed by John Woo.
"Truth and illusion are often disguised as each other; Cao Cao likes to play this game, both with friends and foes." Lui Bai
Based on the 600 year old Romance of Three Kingdoms, the most popular book in Asia, this epic movie marks John Woo's triumphant return to Asian Cinema, and promises to be an enduring classic.
Set in 208AD, as the Han Dynasty crumbles, and China devolves into three states, this is the story about the pivotal battle, the Battle of Red Cliff.
The Chancellor of the empire, Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang), an ambitious and forceful man, secures the Emperor's reluctant permission to quell ‘rebellion' to the East and South.. These ‘Kingdoms' led by Lui Bai (Yong You) and Sun Quan (Chen Chang) unite against the ambitions of the Chancellor, and the stage is set, leading to an inevitable battle for the fate of the Kingdom, one to be fought at Red Cliffs.
Lui Bai flees his native Jingzhou Province, routed by Cao Cao's superior forces, but rather than indulging in vainglorious acts, he retreats, spending his soldiers to secure the retreat, saving his people. He brings with him Gaun Yu (Ba Sen Zha Bu) and the fierce Shang Fei. Most importantly, he brings Zhuge Liang (the delectable Kaneshiro Takeshi) his chief advisor. In the court of the Southern Kingdom, Sun Quan depends on the advice of his Viceroy Zhou Yu (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and his very competent and fierce sister Sun Shangxiang (Wei Zhao), but it is Zhuge Liang with careful logic and graceful diplomacy that convinces him to resist the power hungry Cao Cao. The mutual respect and admiration between these two men is one of the central subplots of the saga.
Of course, it is not all of Jingzhou that resists Cao Cao; the admirals Cai Mao and Zhao Yun (Jun Hu) are received warmly into Cao Cao's ranks, and with their naval expertise, the land locked northern kingdom suddenly has a viable navy...every ship they can lay hands on is conscripted and modified, and a great armada is ready to set off down the Yangtze River. The main problem will be avoiding sea sickness among the landlubber troops.
First, the advance force must be dealt with; Zhuge Liang chooses to meet the powerful northern cavalry with an antique, yet effective battle tactic, one inspired by a tortoise; he must use this to defeat the larger force of cavalry and decisively, to have a chance of building the morale to a level where the Southern army has a chance. But this is just the first hurdle, and many more wait before the war even begins. The army of the Two Kingdoms is far smaller than Cao Cao's; he has more men, more horse, more boats, and far more arrows.
This tale of politics and intrigue is in no way hampered by the ancient setting or the Mandarin language. The subtitles are clear, easy to read, and the emotional content of the words is carried clearly by the actors. Their relationships are the heart and soul of this production, far more than the battles; this is where the wars are won, in the will. We get to know these nobles, and to care for them. Even the tyrannical Cao Cao is given a surprising, and probably more accurate treatment; less a boogie man, and more a man driven by the scope of his own abilities. He is not vilified, a rare instance in the man's treatment by history.
The visuals of this production are stunning, the rich history of the Han period springing to life, from the lovely silks of the aristocracy, and the ornate armour of the warriors, to the humble clothes of the peasants. The scenery looks like the scrolls, the sugar loaf mountains and green fields a delightful tapestry decorating the background of the conflict.
And the action of war is more than sufficient to thrill any martial arts enthusiast, or military buff. There may be a touch of Wuxia to the fights, but there has been no battle since the Battle of Helmsdeep that matches the scope and grandeur of the fights here, and this is just the beginning; the real action takes place in Red Cliffs Part II.
This is part of my Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting! Write Off.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older