This film or rather films had been on our hard drive for months now. Hubby had been enticing me, or rather more akin to begging me to watch them for the last 3 months, however having been quite busy and knowing that I would need my full concentration on watching this film/s; I always beg off.
Last Saturday, hubby once again suggested we watch the films…and having no excuse, not even being tired since I have been resting for the last 5 days due to an illness, I nodded and said “why not”.
As it turned out I actually loved the films.
Red Cliff, turned out to be quite an enigmatic set of films. And I am so glad that we were able to acquire the Asian release rather than the Western version of the films. In Asia this was actually released in two parts: the first part was released in July 2008 and the second part in January 2009. I wouldn’t even dream of watching these films in its shortened Western release version, it was amazingly beautiful in its full content. I honestly believe that the film would lose its essence, its poetry if it were chopped up as it was in its western release.
Red Cliff was based on the Battle of Red Hills (208-209AD), although director John Woo openly admitted that he took artistic liberty on the filming and story line of the film it was still such a wonderful epic, containing therein the drama, the romance and the beauty of Asia culture and its many undertones. According to Director John Woo, the film is only 50% historically accurate giving more importance to how the viewers will react to the battle rather than the facts of it. I believe he made the right decision.
Aside from the plot itself (which I cannot seem to stop myself from praising) three names jumped out at me when I saw them being flashed: Tony Leung , Takeshi Kaneshiro, and of course Zhao Wei. Tony Leung I remembered from his role as Broken Sword in another period film alongside the famous Jet Li – Hero. Zhao Wei, well, how can one forget her cute and adventurous and also kick ass character, Ai Quan, in So Close . And last and definitely not the least, Takeshi Kaneshiro…him of the House of Flying Daggers and The Warlords fame but all that to me the one achievement that immediately came to mind was the fact that he was voted one of Asia’s Sexist Men in 2008 in a survey conducted by E! Entertainment.
So enough of my ogling the stars and off to the review…
The film was set in the summer of 208 during the reign of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD); Chancellor Cao Cao succeeded in gaining the reluctant approval of Emperor Xian to embark on a campaign against the southern warlords presumably to stamp out the rebels. A great battle ensues when Cao Cao’s troops started attacking civilians on an exodus led by Liu Bei, known as the Battle of Changban. Liu Bei (Zhang Fengyi) depended the civilians assisted by his generals, sworn brothers Guan Yu and Zhang Fei. The two generals displayed excellent combat skills and were able to hold off the enemy while buying time for the civilians to retreat, and also gaining the admiration of Chancellor Cao Cao who went as far as to muse why he doesn’t have generals as good as the ones depending Liu Bei. Behind the scenes, Liu Bei has another asset, the master strategist Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro).
Following a lull in the battle, Zhuge went on a mission to gather support for Liu Bei and form an alliance with other southern warloads. He went to Sun Quan (Chang Chen), in Jiangdong hoping to convince its ruler to join forces with Liu Bei in dealing with Cao Cao’s invasion. At the time, the region was turn between the decision of whether to surrender or fight but Zhuge’s clever persuasions and the incident during the tiger hunt wherein Sun Quan together with his viceroy Zhou Yu and his sister, Sun Shangxiang hardened his decision to fight.
Meanwhile, two naval commanders from Jing province had already pledged their allegiance to Cao Cao; Cai Mao and Zhang Yun, they were warmly welcomed by Cao Cao and were put in charge of his naval forces. Cao Cao being from the northern provinces has no knowledge of naval battle so the presence of the two commanders was considered a great advantage. Now, his forces can attack from both water and land.
A meeting was hastily called on the newly formed allegiance of Liu Bei and Sun Quan to plan out how best to fight off the forces of Cao Cao which were rapidly advancing both on land and on water. It is here where Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu formed a very unusual and crucially important friendship; both admired the other for his military aptitude and sharp mind. Throughout the battle, Zhuge and Zhou will continually challenge each other posing nearly impossible tasks on other while continually depending the region against Cao Cao.
Unknown to the others, Zhuge secretly sent Sun Shangxiang to spy on Cao Cao’s camp and infiltrated the enemy posing as a soldier. The two maintain contact by sending messages via a pigeon. The film ended with Zhou Yu lighting his miniaturised battleships on a map based on the battle formation.
The second film picked up where the first film ended; having befriended a soldier from the enemy’s camp Sun Shangxiang was able to move around the camp freely and there she noted details of the camp and the enemies and continue to send them to Zhuge via pigeon messages.
Unused to the water, many of Cao Cao’s soldiers started to get sick; living in such close quarters coupled with unsanitary practices, Cao Cao’s army was soon plagued with typhoid fever and the armies’ morale is affected. Hoping to infect the other armies, Cao Cao ordered the corpses of his dead soldiers to be put on a raft and set afloat towards Red Cliff where Zhou Yu and Sun Quan armies were encamped. The tactic worked when some unsuspecting soldiers pulled the raft towards shore and this started the infection inside their camp.
Eventually, disheartened with the turn of events Liu Bei leaves with his forces while Zhuge Liang stays behind to assist Sun Quan’s forces. Here again as with the first movie the audience is confronted with the reality of just how intelligent and knowledgeable Zhuge was. He stayed and came up with medicine to help the sick and was eventually successful in strengthening the immune system of the soldiers enough for them to fight off the disease.
Lacking soldiers, weapons and ammunition, Zhuge and Zhou once against came up with a brilliant plan to attack the Cao Cao’s camp. Subsequently, the two once again issued a challenge to the other; Zhuge promised that he would produce 100, 000 arrows in 3 days or Zhou can have his head. This is in payment for Liu Bei’s abandonment. Zhou on the other hand promised to eliminate Cai Mao and Zhang Yun within the same period or Zhuge can have his head if he fails to accomplish the tasked.
I will not tell you how they accomplished the tasks or if they even accomplished them at all..I will tell this though, the two brilliant strategists were both alive at the end of the film.
Sun Shangxiang soon returned to Sun Quan’s camp, with her is a detailed map of the enemies’ camp and its formations. Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang decide to attack Cao Cao’s navy with fire anticipating that a special climatic condition will soon cause the wind to shift and that the resulting southeast wind will blow to their advantage.
It was eventually revealed in the film that Cao Cao actually started the conquest all because of his desire for one woman; the one he considers to be the most beautiful woman in the world and he wants her all to himself. Unfortunately, the said woman, Xiaoqiao, was happily married to Zhou Yu and carrying his child.
With this knowledge in mind, Xiaoqiao left her husband’s camp with his consent hoping to persuade Cao Cao to give up his ambitious plans, but fails and decides to distract him instead to buy time for her side.
The battle begins when the southeast wind starts blowing in the middle of the night and Sun Quan’s forces launch their attack on Cao Cao’s navy. Still feeling guilty for leaving their former allies, Liu Bei’s generals begged their master to allow them to join the armies attacking Cao Cao’s camp and proceeded to launched an attack on land coming from the back and surprising Cao Cao’s forces.
What followed next was about 45 minutes of one of the fiercest battles I have ever watched on film. It was a battle of epic proportion. Cao Cao’s army was soon defeated but upon great lost on both camps. Eventually, the allies decide to spare Cao Cao’s life and tell him never to return before leaving for home. In the final scene, Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang are seen having a conversation with Zhuge jestingly declared that he would be leading a quiet life and start farming.
I loved the movie. I started out not really thrilled to be ‘made’ to watch it but 10 minutes into the 1st film and I am completely hooked. By the time the 1st part ended and I looked at hubby to play the part 2 and he just shrugged and just looked at me…I nearly strangled him. Fortunately, he already has part 2 and was laughing all the way to the media player, full of himself for knowing in advance that I would like the movies.
It was a star studded movie but that wasn’t the reason it was good. Many Hollywood films have real big name stars in it but they’re all crappy, this movie/s was different. Yes, it has a lot of big name Asian stars in it but it also has an awesome, awesome plot and a wonderful cinematography. The movie draw you into its story and it doesn’t let go. Even when it was over, you still want to see more.
Truly a movie to recommend to anyone who wants to see a good Asian epic movie, that goes up there with the likes of Lord of the Rings and 13 Assassins.