I first heard about the film The Battle Of Red Cliff when it was first being made in China. The few facts I knew about the film then were enough to get me really excited, but soon after it fell off my radar until a friend told me about seeing it in Japan. He loved the film and when I was reminded of who had made it and what it was based on I got pretty excited again!
The film is directed by the Chinese film maker John Woo who directed classic Hong Kong films like The Killer and Hard Boiled, and his not so classic, but still good, American films such as Face Off, Mission Impossible 2 and Paycheck. So his action credentials are impeccable and when I heard that The Battle Of Red Cliff was going to be based on the Chinese historical/fictional time period of the Three Kingdoms, I thought this was going to be amazing. An epic period battle movie in the hands of an expert action director with a huge budget was just asking to be stunning.
The Three Kingdoms time period in China has been written about many times over the years and forever immortalised in the historical/fiction novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, written in the 14th century by Luo Guanzhong, spanning 111 years from 169BC-280BC. Like most novels written about historical events, some creative licence was taken with the writing of the Three Kingdoms and there’s always been a shroud covering what’s fiction and what’s non-fiction in the story, but as they say, why let the truth stand in the way of a good story.
The film stars many top Asian actors such as Tony Leung (Hero and Infernal Affairs) as Zhou Yu, Takeshi Kaneshiro (House of Flying Daggers) as Zhuge Liang, and the very beautiful Wei Zhao as the rebellious Sun Shang Xiang. The story revolves around the epic struggle for power within the huge country of China at a time when the Han dynasty is coming to its end. The void to fill that power gap grips the country as different forces play off each other to get a foothold in the seat of power.
Although that is the major basis of the conflict which lasted over 100 years, the simpler, and potentially more accurate cause of the war, is a love triangle between Zhou Yu from the clan Wu, and his wife Xiao Qiao, played by Chiling Lin, and the evil Cao Cao from the clan Wei, played by Fengyi Zhang. With his force of 800,000 men, Cao Cao goes to war on the south of China so as to unify the country once more but with the ever constant thought of stealing Xiao Qiao away from Zhou Yu after his victory.
Seeing the danger falling on them from the north, the clans of Wu and Shu join forces to fight the much larger force of Cao Cao in what must go down as one of the worlds most epic struggles for power. Even the Roman Empire at its height could maybe only muster around 400,000 men to fight its battles. So to think one side of this conflict had double that number is almost unimaginable. With the stage set at the location of Red Cliff, though historically that’s not where the real battle took place, the movie prepares you for the coming epic battle that could decide the history of China for centuries to come.
At over 4 hours long this film is epic in every way possible. However, I’m sad to say that western audiences won’t get to see the 4 hour version in cinemas as they got a watered down 2½ hour version. Most of Asia got to see the movie as two parts, a 2 hour version, released in late 2008 and another 2 hour part in January 2009. Lucky for me, I was privileged to see the 4 hour version and it was as epic a film as any you will ever see. So, if you ever get the chance, I suggest seeing the 4 hour version, but as I can hear most of you saying “4 hours!”, then at least watch the shorter version as this really is a great film about a very interesting time in the world’s history and it deserves to be watched.
8 out of 10 from me!!!