Burn Baby Burn!: Red Cliff (1 and 2)

Ok, I’ve put it off long enough.  Some may be aware of my luv for Red Cliff, and now that I’ve seen the second half, I feel I can speak on it.  First, I have to re-declare my fandom for John Woo.  Let’s face it, he had us worried with those Hollywood “projects” (Face/Off, Mission Impossible 2).  Don’t get me wrong, I liked both of them, but they were no A Better Tomorrow, The Killer or (sigh), Bullet in the Head.  David Bordwell has a chapter on Woo in his book Planet Hong Kong called “Enough to Make Strong Men Weep,” and that’s what Woo did to perfection!  We know Woo is excellent with the betrayal in the brotherhood theme, but I was not convinced that  he handle the sweeping epic. So you can imagine my trepidation:  would Red Cliff mark a triumphant return of Woo to Hong Kong film, or just make me cry?

Happy to say, I welcome John Woo back with open arms!!!  I taught a class on Asian film, and had them read Three Kingdoms (I’m talking the unabridged, 2200 page version my kids don’t skimp!), and ended the class with Red Cliff 1.  I waited to watch it with them, and I did literally jump up and down at the end. (If they want to see Red Cliff 2, they have to take the class next year!)  I liked seeing the three brothers (although I still think Liu Bei is still the punkiest of the three; Chang Fei is out of control, my money is always on Gwan Yu), but I really liked seeing Zhuge Liang, played by Takeshi Kaneshiro.  In the book, yeah, the soldiers are out with the swords, but nothing beats a good advisor by your side, and I like smart, so I was down for Zhuge, especially since he seemed to bring just a little bit of very understated sass to his.  And I am very glad that Woo gave more substance to Lady Sun other that inevitable love interest of Liu Bei.

A lot of people are saying that they liked the second one better than the first (apparently, so are the box office profits in China), but I’m going to stand up for the first one.  Why?  Yeah, we expect to see some spectacular battle scenes and smack talking among generals, but what I liked about the first installment is that you got a sense of these men:  Sun Quan, who is so obviously still suffering from “not good enough” syndrome, Zhou Yu and his benevolent and honorable approach to war (doesn’t hurt that Tony Leung plays him, so easy on the eyes), Cao Cao and his shear domination and bad-assness.   

So yes, I liked this film, right down to the lovely soundtrack.

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