Red Cliff (Chi Bi)
Bigger is better. That seems to be the philosophy brought back by John Woo from his experience in Hollywood. Red Cliff (Chi Bi) is the biggest and most expensive film in Chinese history and was also one of the most successful, breaking box-office records in China. The magnum Opus marks the return of John Woo to his homeland after a long hiatus. Though it's a 2-part epic, viewers in the west were offered an single abridged version at roughly 2.5 hrs running length as part of the theatrical release. It's highly recommended that you go for the complete 2 part film that are available on the DVD and Blu-Ray releases to truly appreciate this epic.
Red Cliff (Chi Bi) is largely inspired from the Battle of Red Cliffs during the final days of the Han dynasty. The battle took place during the winter of 208-209 AD between a powerful northern warlord Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang) and the warlords Liu Bei(Yong You) and Sun Quan (Chen Chang) from the South. John Woo apparently took liberties with historical facts to make it more compelling to contemporary viewing, and it works. Red Cliff (Chi Bi), the first part of this epic focuses on the events leading up to the standoff at Red Cliff between the two warring forces.
Tony Leung plays Zhou Yu, the Grand Viceroy to Sun Quan who leads the southern opposition against the aggressive Cao Cao, aided by Liu Bei's brilliant strategist Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro). Tony Leung is brilliant as always and brings a charm and charisma to his performance and is undoubtedly the most engaging character in the movie that boasts of an ensemble cast. Lin Chi-ling as Xiao Qiao (Zhou Yu's wife) is stunning and graceful. Takeshi Kaneshiro is effective as a philosopher and strategist with a keen understanding of Confucius and the Art of War. Fengyi Zhang as Cao Cao also brings a cunning and calm ruthlessness to his performance deserving of the antagonist. John Woo brilliantly manages to create rich characters who never get lost to the scale of this epic.
John Woo's attention to details is visible in all the departments, especially in it's action and war sequences. The martial arts choreography is top notch, as one would expect in a John Woo film, and the large scale battles are presented more as strategic maneuvering and out-thinking the opponents, rather than a chaotic mess of extras and special effects. And the sheer scale, such as 100,000 men marching or 100's of warships sailing towards red cliff, will leave you amazed and impressed.
Despite the scale and the large number of characters, Red Cliff has a beautifully structured narrative that never feels rushed and keeps you engaged. Though just part 1 of a two part epic, Red Cliff could be regarded as a complete movie on it's own, and will leave you excited for the second, and final act. Red Cliff (Chi Bi) is a movie to be experienced, regardless of whether you are a John Woo fan or not.