Chi Bi : Red Cliff

Imagine the battle scenes of 300 set in the beautiful landscapes of Lord of the Rings – that’s the simplest description I can give about this epic Chinese movie. Loosely based on the actual historical battle at Red Cliff, it depicts the fight between a tyrannical Prime Minister Cao Cao and his million strong army against the 50,000 soldiers of Zhou Yu and Liu Bei. Staying true to Sun Tzu’s Art of War philosophy, the battle is as much about strategy as its about actual fighting – and it’s the battle of the master strategists on both sides that makes this movie special

After a period of civil war, Cao Cao has grown to be the Prime Minister by defeating all the warlords and the weak Han emperor is just a puppet in his hands. The only two challenges to his authority are Liu Bei and Sun Quan in Southern Territories. After a short battle, Liu Bei’s forces are routed and he is forced to retreat further south to Sun Quan’s territories where they team up to fight Cao Cao together. Red Cliff is the camp on the river Yangtze where Sun Quan’s armies are stationed under the Viceroy Zhou Yu and this becomes the scene of one of the biggest battles of the Three Kingdoms as Cao Cao lays siege on Red Cliff.

This movie was actually released in two parts in 2008 and 2009 in East Asia (something like Kill Bill), yet for the rest of the world, the five hour extravaganza was shortened to a two and a half hour movie. So bear with it if some scenes appear a bit disconnected from the previous ones.

With John Woo at the helm of things, visuals and special effects are spectacular. The beauty of the Yangtze valley is especially breathtaking. And you are going to get 300 deja vu in the combat scenes. But what you remember most about the movie is the white robed Zhuge Liang and his stratagems. Master strategist to Liu Bei, Zhuge Liang has the ability to read weather patterns and he uses it to maximum effect in the game of wits with Cao Cao. He works closely with Zhou Yu, a capable strategist himself. However, the fact that Zhuge Liang never actually fights makes his character all the more memorable.

However, the movie is not without its demerits. In halving the movie, effort has been made to minimize the effect on the continuity in the movie, but it has resulted in some characters completely losing their backgrounds etc – so most of the important general’s just don’t do anything apart from fighting spectacularly. The other unpalatable bit were the women in the movie – princess Sun and Zhou Yu’s wife Xiao Qiao. Both their parts are a bit far fetched and the movie probably would have done better without the man-wife scenes between Zhou Yu and Xiao Qiao. However, maybe it’s a cultural thing that we don’t get … like the tea drinking !! I really don’t know if drinking tea was a metaphor for sex or something !

John Woo attempts a epic cinematic version of the historical battle and for the most part succeeds in keeping a audience involved. However, the build up to the final battle royale, in typical of Chinese movies, is a bit slow and the ones with short attention span should probably give this movie a miss. The ones that do watch it are rewarded with some spectacular battle scenes on the river and a slightly disappointing climax. If you do watch the movie, you will probably agree that women were just not needed in the movie …. especially in the climax. But even with the failings, a recommended watch on the big screen

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