John Woo is a director I have always admired, in fact, I have a signed photo from him that sits framed in my computer office here. After building up a strong Asian resume he finally landed in Hollywood with a string of hits including Broken Arrow, Face/Off and Mission Impossible II before a few duds which saw him scampering back to China where he regrouped and shot China's most expensive movies Red Cliff (released July 2008) and Red Cliff II (released January 2009). With a cost of $US80 million the two movies grossed an impressive $245 million - the bulk of which came from Asia.
For those outside Asia, we weren't to be so lucky with the two movies scrapped in favour of a single movie called The Battle of Red Cliff. In condensing the two movies into one the runtime dropped from 280 minutes, to 148 minutes, and it is this single movie version we are reviewing here. Fortunately Icon Films have been kind enough to also release the two movie version as a 2-disc set and you can expect a review of that version soon.
Much has been made that this movie isn't historically accurate and perhaps that is the case (We haven't read the Three Kingdoms books to detail authenticity) however much like Gladiator or Braveheart that doesn't mean this isn't an entralling story with great characters and epic battles.
Admittedly there are a few somewhat silly moments in this film. A female being able to dress up as a soldier and infiltrate the enemy camp is ludicrious - you could have at least picked an actress that looked 'manly' rather then the rather sexy Sun Shangxiang who would have been spotted as a female infiltrator a mile off. The final fight too includes one ludicriously over the top move which we can't detail for fear of spoiling the movie, but you'll know it when you see it.
Now I don't understand Chinese, besides the occasional word which I recall from high school and some Chinese friends of mine, but I can hear that the audio here is crystal clear. This is also apparent from the gorgeous musical score and of course the audio effects which range from subtle moments such as birds chirping or fires burning, through to the massive battles often with hundreds of horses thundering across the lands. This really is a stunning audio transfer.
If I were to pick two negatives it would be that Red Cliff was released on Blu-Ray in Asia with LPCM 7.1, DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 on the one disc. While there wouldn't be much audible difference between the three formats (provided they are all 16-bit) where we do miss out is on the 2 extra channels which may disappoint some.
John Woo Interview (16:01): I always find John Woo quite an interesting person, and in this featurette he discusses the production of Red Cliff including the decision to make this film, how it compares to Hollywood productions, and telling a Chinese story to a wider, non-Chinese, audience. It's worth a look. We did find the volume level on this feature quite low so be prepared to turn it up.
Making of Red Cliff (20:53): So my own mother can do better editing then what we see in this featurette (the screen goes black after almost every cut for a moment), but for 20 minutes we have almost entirely on-set footage from the filming which is quite interesting and even shows some of the mistakes and accidents on set. Again, the volume level is quite low so turn it up but this featurette is also shown in widescreen for 4:3 TV's which therefor places borders on all four sides on a HDTV.
I was extremely impressed by this movie when I saw it at cinemas, and I am still very much a fan having seen it three more times on Blu-Ray (twice theatrical, also the 2 movie version to be reviewed soon). If anything the Theatrical version is a bit tighter and quicker paced then the 2 movie version, and fans of Chinese movies would do well to check out The Battle of Red Cliff. Icon Films have provided a stunning transfer which will show off any home theatre. Extras are a bit lacking, but putting that space to the lengthy movie was always the right option. This is a rental at the very least, but for fans, a purchase is more then warranted.
Review By: Dave Warner