Red Cliff I / II (2008)
A two-part story centered on a battle fought in China's Three Kingdoms period (220-280 A.D.).
"We must fight even if we cannot win."
As per any film directed by John Woo, you will be getting lots of action from the off, and despite this being set on old traditional epic battles, there is just a refinement to his old style. Big explosions, slow-motion detailed violence, and long drawn out fights are all bundled together as in many of his other movies. However, this film is more than that and is an intelligent look at the machinations of old field battles.
The premise of the movie is of an alliance of clan forces arming and battling against a belligerent megalomaniac who craves to take over the "Southlands" and the wife of one of his opponents. The whole film plays over the strategic plans and tactics each use over each other in graphic detail, be it a giant battlefield attack or navy manoeuvre. It's all a literary take on the art of war.
Some comic moments and characters release tensions at points, but the whole movie is a set of giant bonfires with the action ruthless in scale once it begins (as expected with John Woo).
Aside from the action, the scenery and direction is wonderful, and the acting very good from the multitude of characters (and there are many to get to grips with!). Add in some great set-pieces in the direction (the "tortoise" piece) and you don't get just some gung-ho blood fest as some battle movies have become.
Yet after all those positives, there's still something missing. There have been many great Chinese epics over the past ten years, and this is not amongst the lower rungs. However, it seems to have a gap in what it's trying to achieve.
The story was good but at the end not gripping and the length of the film made it at times feel to drag on. Was the film meant to be maybe just an action movie? I doubt it, but with the way the story was going you just wanted the action to get going to get it over with at times. That is the disappointing point. It was aiming to be greater than sadly it finally was. Not by any means a bad film, but it has a likely lot to live up to with its budget, star names and director.
Have you seen it? If so, what's your opinion?