Red Cliff (Variety Review)

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Red Cliff (Variety Review)

Postby dleedlee » Mon Jul 21, 2008 11:43 am

Red Cliff
Chi bi (China-Japan-Taiwan-South Korea-U.S.)


Powered By A China Film Group Corp. (in China)/Avex Entertainment (in Japan)/CMC Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox (in Taiwan)/Showbox (in S. Korea) release of a China Film Group, Chengtian Entertainment (China)/Avex Entertainment (Japan)/CMC Entertainment (Taiwan)/Showbox, Taewon Entertainment (S. Korea)/John Woo presentation of a Lion Rock Prods. production. (International sales: Summit Entertainment, L.A.) Produced by Terence Chang, Woo. Executive producers, Han Sanping, Wu Kebo, Masato Matsuura, Ryuhei Chiba, Huang Chin-wen, Kim Woo-taek, Ryu Jeong-chun. Co-producers, Anne Woo, Zhang Daxing, Yeh Ju-feng, David Tang, Wang Wei, Cheri Yeung. Directed by John Woo. Screenplay, Woo, Khan Chan, Kuo Cheng, Sheng Heyu.

Zhou Yu - Tony Leung Chiu-wai
Zhuge Liang - Takeshi Kaneshiro
Cao Cao - Zhang Fengyi
Sun Quan - Chang Chen
Sun Shangxiang - Vicki Zhao
Zhao Yun - Hu Jun
Gan Xing - Shido Nakamura
Xiao Qiao - Lin Chi-ling
Liu Bei - You Yong
Lu Su - Hou Yong
Sun Shucai - Tong Dawei
Li Ji - Song Jia
Guan Yu - Basenzabu
Zhang Fei - Zang Jinsheng
Huang Gai - Zhang Shan
Cao Hong - Wang Hui
Jiang Gan - Shi Xiaohong
Kong Rong - Wang Qingxiang
Emperor Xian - Wang Ning
Lady Mi - He Yin

One of the most ballyhooed Asian productions in recent history, and the most expensive Chinese-lingo picture ever, John Woo's costume actioner "Red Cliff" scales the heights. First seg of the two-part, $80 million historical epic -- with "The Battle of Red Cliff" to follow in late January -- balances character, grit, spectacle and visceral action in a meaty, dramatically satisfying pie that delivers on the hype and will surprise many who felt the Hong Kong helmer progressively lost his mojo during his long years stateside. Pic may, however, disappoint those looking for simply a costume retread of his kinetic, '80s H.K. classics.

Film is pitched more at an older demographic than traditional Asian youth auds, and the July 10 release (in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea) faces heavy competition from other summer titles after its first frame. But robust initial returns point to the two-parter putting black ink on most investors' ledgers - apart, maybe, from Japanese investor Avex, who bankrolled more than half the budget. Non-Asian returns look to be much smaller, especially as in the West the whole 4 1/2-hour movie will be available only in a single, 2 1/2-hour version that could end up losing much of the character detail that motors the production.

Detailing an incident familiar to auds throughout Asia, script by Woo and three other writers mixes elements from history (as recorded in a third century chronicle by Chen Shou), the freely fictionalized classic "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" by 14th-century scribe Luo Guanzhong and their own filmic imagination into a dramatic stew that has engendered beaucoup debate among Asian specialists and auds who already have their own ideas on the characters from multiple comicbook treatments, TV drama series and school textbooks. However, given that these often contradict each other - even down to details of who were the good and bad guys -- pic always faced an uphill battle pleasing everyone.

But the picture indisputably works on its own terms. Though this first part is a long warm-up to the part two naval battle on the Yangtze River that saw the forces of the North rebuffed by those of the South, it contains more than enough action and drama to justify its length, as well as a cliff-hanger ending that leaves auds hungry for more.

Yarn opens in summer AD 208, with prime minister-cum-general Cao Cao (powerful Mainland vet Zhang Fengyi) asking permission from Han dynasty Emperor Xian (Wang Ning) to lead an expedition south to take on "rebellious" warlords Liu Bei (You Yong) and Sun Quan (Taiwan thesp Chang Chen). Jittery mood in the imperial court sets the stage for the political machinations that marble the whole movie -- and forecasts the period of turmoil, known as the Three Kingdoms, that followed the imminent collapse of the 400-year-old Han dynasty.

Socko, 20-minute action sequence, as Cao Cao's massive army sweeps south and meets Liu's forces in the battle of Changban, establishes the gritty, chaotic tone of the movie's land warfare. Cool, almost grungy color processing, and action that's exaggerated but not manga-like, is underpinned by realistic costumes and design by ace art director Tim Yip. There's no clear sense of geography in the skirmishes, but maybe that's the point.

As Liu & Co. lick their wounds after their retreat, Liu's canny strategist, Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) proposes an alliance between him and Sun Quan vs. Cao Cao's seemingly unstoppable forces. Pic's second act broadens here, establishing the nervous, indecisive character of Sun Quan, his tomboyish sister, Sun Shangxiang (lively Mainland babe Vicki Zhao) -- and last but not least, Sun Quan's commander, Zhou Yu (H.K. heartthrob Tony Leung Chiu-wai).

Appearance 40 minutes in of toplined Leung (a last-minute replacement for Chow Yun-fat) adds some real emotional heft to the drama. Though not the most physically imposing thesp in the cast, Leung is easily the subtlest, and character's musical interests add extra layers to what, until then, has been simply a sturdy historical actioner.

Main cast has few weak links and traverses all shades of character. Zhang and Leung dominate the movie, while Kaneshiro is fine as wily strategist Zhuge and Zhao adds welcome humor as the feisty princess. Chang is a tad lightweight in such company as the wimpish Sun, and Taiwanese super-model Lin Chi-ling mostly decorative as Zhou's wife. Multitude of colorful supports is led by Mongolian actor Basenzabu as a warrior who's a one-man moving mountain.

Dark-toned color processing doesn't glamorize the period and adds gravitas to many of the youthful actors. Japanese composer Taro Iwashiro's multi-faceted score -- brazzy, playful, lyrical by turns -- adds real dramatic clout throughout. Visual effects are just OK.

Version caught in South Korea (cut by local distrib-investor Showbox) was nine minutes shorter than that shown in Chinese-speaking territories, with a couple of scenes shortened, including a calligraphy sequence prior to Zhou making love to his wife. Japanese version, to be released later this year, will also be shorter than Woo's 140-minute cut.

With: Sun Chun, Jiang Tong, Kou Shixun, Koyuki, Li Hong, Menghe Wuliji, Wang Yuzhang, Zhang Yi, Wu Qi, Chen Changhai, Zhao Chengshun, Wang Zaolai, Xie Gang, Yi Zhen, Jia Hongwei, Guo Chao, Cui Yugui, Xu Fengnian, Ma Jing, Hu Xiaoguang, Ye Hua.
(Mandarin dialogue)

Camera (CineLabs Beijing color, widescreen), Lu Yue, Zhang Li; editors, Angie Lam, Yang Hongyu, Robert A. Ferretti; music, Taro Iwashiro; production-costume designer, Tim Yip; sound (Dolby Digital), Roger Savage; sound designer, Steve Burgess; visual effects supervisors, Craig Hayes, Kevin Rafferty; visual effects, The Orphanage, CafeFX, Hatch Prod.; stunt supervisor, Dion Lam; stunt co-ordinator, Guo Jianyong; assistant directors, Albert Cho, Richard L. Fox, Thomas Chow; secnd unit directors, Zhang Jinzhan (army battles), Patrick Leung (naval battle); action director, Corey Yuen; casting, Cheng Jie. Reviewed at CGV Bucheon 3, South Korea, July 19, 2008. Running time: 131 MIN.
饮水思源 Better to light a candle than curse the darkness; Measure twice, cut once. Check yourself...Punctuation.
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Postby dleedlee » Sat Jan 10, 2009 3:17 pm

Red Cliff II
Chi bi: juezhan tianxia

(China-Japan-Taiwan-South Korea-U.S.) A China Film Group Corp. (in China)/Avex Entertainment (in Japan)/CMC Entertainment, 20th Century Fox (in Taiwan)/Showbox (in South Korea) release of a China Film Group, Chengtian Entertainment Intl. Holdings (China)/Avex Entertainment (Japan)/CMC Entertainment (Taiwan)/Showbox (South Korea)/John Woo presentation of a Lion Rock production. (International sales: Summit Entertainment, Los Angeles.) Produced by Terence Chang, Woo. Executive producers, Han Sanping, Masato Matsuura, Wu Kebo, Ryuhei Chiba, Dennis Wu, Ryu Jeong-hun, Woo. Co-producers, Anne Woo, Zhang Daxing, Yeh Ru-feng, David Tang, Wang Wei, Cheri Yeung. Directed by John Woo. Screenplay, Woo, Khan Chan, Kuo Cheng, Sheng Heyu.

Zhou Yu - Tony Leung Chiu-wai
Zhuge Liang - Takeshi Kaneshiro
Cao Cao - Zhang Fengyi
Sun Quan - Chang Chen
Sun Shangxiang - Vicki Zhao
Zhao Yun - Hu Jun
Gan Xing - Shido Nakamura
Xiao Qiao - Lin Chi-ling
Liu Bei - You Yong
Lu Su - Hou Yong
Sun Shucai - Tong Dawei
Li Ji - Song Jia
Guan Yu - Basenzabu
Zhang Fei - Zang Jinsheng
Huang Gai - Zhang Shan
Cao Hong - Wang Hui
Jiang Gan - Shi Xiaohong


By DEREK ELLEY
Simply the second half of an almost five-hour movie rather than a self-contained pic in its own right, John Woo's costume actioner "Red Cliff II" delivers in spades for auds left hungry for more by last summer's first seg. With characters already established, this half is expectedly heavier on action, though nimble editing and charismatic perfs still pack beaucoup human interest prior to the final hour's barnstorming battle. Pic opened bracingly in China Jan. 7 and fans out this month through major Asian markets (with Japan in April), where biz should rank with that of "Red Cliff."

Given the success of Woo's high-stakes undertaking -- at $80 million, the most expensive Chinese-language movie ever -- it remains a crying shame that the two films may never be seen outside Asia on the bigscreen. (For hardcore buffs, the first pic is already available on DVD in Asia.) Non-Asian auds are meant to be content with a planned 2½-hour "international version," which cannot hope to replicate the impressive detail and sheer epic sweep of the 280-minute original.

Rapid, two-minute recap of "Red Cliff" (beneath the main titles) serves more to get auds' pulses racing again than to educate newcomers. The year is 208 A.D., near the end of the 400-year-old Han Dynasty, and the opposing forces of prime-minister-cum-general Cao Cao (mainland vet Zhang Fengyi), repping the Emperor in the north, and a relatively small coalition led by Zhou Yu (Hong Kong idol Tony Leung Chiu-wai), repping "rebellious" southern warlords, are about to face off in a decisive battle at Red Cliff on the Yangtze River.

The north-south divide, symbolized by the river that runs through China's middle, is even more strongly emphasized here: Cao Cao's massive but lumpen army is uneasy on water and tiring after campaigning southward, while Zhou Yu, typical of more wily, faster-thinking southerners, is determined to hold what he sees as a line in the sand. Script doesn't push the allegory of a northern-based government trying to unify China by force, but it's there for the taking, with Zhou carefully stressing at one point that he doesn't oppose the Emperor per se, only Cao Cao and his brutal methods.

Though the first film's cliffhanger ending had an eve-of-battle feel, "Red Cliff II" actually spends well over an hour detailing each side's plans, as Cao Cao's initial confidence in his numerical supremacy is undercut by an outbreak of typhoid among his troops.

After Cao Cao manages to infect Zhou's troops with the disease, Zhou, aided by master strategist Zhuge Liang (Chinese-Japanese thesp Takeshi Kaneshiro), realizes this is as much a psychological war as it is a simple numbers game. When warlord Liu Bei (You Yong) politely deserts Zhou, the latter is left with only 30,000 men vs. Cao Cao's several hundred thousand.

There's considerable fun, and not a little humor, in the resourceful southerners' wheezes, aided by secret messages sent back from Cao Cao's camp by undercover princess Sun Shangxiang (petite mainland actress Vicki Zhao). After some clever tactics by Zhuge Liang to undermine Cao Cao, the scene is finally set for the decisive David-vs.-Goliath engagement, with Zhou Yu's wife (Taiwanese supermodel Lin Chi-ling) playing a crucial role.

The massive battle, on land as well as sea, has no single standout sequence (such as the trap of shields into which Cao Cao's troops were lured in the first pic), but there's the same balance between the mechanical aspects of ancient warfare and acts of individual heroism. Finale, with its personal standoff, plays fast and loose with history and comes closest to the feel of a regular Hong Kong actioner, but makes sense in dramatic terms after well over four hours of buildup.

As in the first pic, Zhang is a powerhouse presence as Cao Cao and is easily the richest character in the whole pic, as the script refrains from reducing him to a pure villain. Leung is slightly less imposing this time, though his chemistry with Kaneshiro is fine, drawing a friendship between equals. Zhao again supplies some spunky humor, and Lin, largely decorative before, has a couple key scenes in which she holds her own against Zhang.

Taro Iwashiro's rousing score again complements the fluid editing (especially clever in keeping a large number of characters in the game) and the gritty but not unattractive widescreen lensing. Visual and special effects do their job just fine.

Outside China, pic has a secondary title that roughly means "The Decisive Battle of All Time." In this 280-minute, two-part version, helmer-producer Woo and fellow producer Terence Chang have indeed crafted one of the great Chinese costume epics of all time.

Camera (color, widescreen), Lu Yue, Zhang Li; editors, Daniel Wu, Angie Lam, Yang Hongyu; music, Taro Iwashiro; production designer, Tim Yip; art director, Eddy Wong; costume designer, Yip; sound (Dolby Digital), Roger Savage, Wu Jiang, Wen Bo; sound designer, Steve Burgess; visual effects supervisor, Craig Hayes; visual effects/animation, the Orphanage; stunt supervisor, Dion Lam; assistant directors, Thomas Chow, Richard L. Fox; second unit directors, Zhang Jinzhan (army battles), Patrick Leung (naval battle). Reviewed at Shaw Lido 1, Singapore, Jan. 9, 2009. Running time: 140 MIN.
(Mandarin dialogue)
http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117939 ... =1263&cs=1
饮水思源 Better to light a candle than curse the darkness; Measure twice, cut once. Check yourself...Punctuation.
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