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Red Cliff (Chi Bi)


Stars: Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei, Hu Jun, Shidou Nakamura, Chiling Lin, You Yong, Hou Yong, Tong Daiwei, Song Jia

Director: John Woo

If you have ever wondered how film critics possess such extraordinary powers of recall the answer is simple – we are given (usually) lavish press notes that conveniently synopsise the story and, in the case of publications that have the space, also offer valuable background information on the movie which can be passed off as scholarship.

All of which is simply a prelude to the fact that director/co-writer Woo’s dazzling epic has a storyline that, properly synopsised, would probably be almost as long as the film itself. Fortunately, such is the magnificent spectacle conjured up by Woo and his behind-the-camera collaborators that the complex plot takes second place to some of the most visually stunning and exhilarating action sequences I’ve ever seen, centred on amazing battles that explain all too clearly why such major epics as Alexander’ and Troy fell at the box-office.

The mesh of combat action and intrigue is set in China in 208 AD where ambitious Prime Minister Zhang Fengyi triggers off massive battles and bloodshed when he and his armies take in the forces of Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro. I’ve seen Red Cliff twice, not for the plot which is holding enough but for the force, sheer size and dazzling impact of its brilliant battles. Woo’s return to his native China after Hollywood-filmed multiplex hits like Face/Off and Mission Impossible 2 has resulted in a masterpiece - and the most expensive Chinese-language ever made.

Alan Frank

China/Japan/Taiwan/South Korea/U.S 2008. UK Distributor: Entertainment Film Distributors. Colour.
150 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 14 Jun 2009