Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Red Cliff Part I (2008)

Red Cliff Part I (2008)
Part II will be shown in two weeks time

November 19th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Red Cliff Part I is the first instalment in a two part Chinese period war epic. Part two will be shown in two weeks later, the next Thursday after Thanksgiving. The story deals with the climactic battle of the Three Kingdoms era 169-280AD. For those unfamiliar with the wider story, a brief description is provided bellow. In the near future Red Cliff will be receiving a limited US theatrical release and later domestic DVD and BluRay.

The differences between the two versions amounts to Part I and II being condensed together into a single shortened film. This was done at the request of the films Director John Woo who believed that many of the sub plots would be distracting if not all together meaningless to Western viewers unfamiliar with the events of the story. The majority of the cuts come from non-action sequences in Part I.

Red Cliff is John Woo’s return to Chinese cinema. Beginning in the mid 1970's, Woo became a well known director of Screw-ball comedies for the Golden Harvest studio directing such films as Money Crazy (1977) and From Riches to Rags (1979). Later he helped to begin the Heroic Bloodshed wave of action films of the 1980's which use a unique mixture of fanatic gunplay, melodrama and male bonding similar to that featured in the films of Chang Cheh of who Woo served as an assistant director under. He left Hong Kong after creating his Heroic Bloodshed masterpiece Hard Boiled (1992) to come to work in the United States. While in the US he directed a series of high profile films including Broken Arrow (1996) and Face-Off (1997).

Red Cliff was given the largest budget of any mainland Chinese film and in addition to the use of CGI for some of the epic battle scenes, it makes use of massive sets and large numbers of costumed extras. Both parts have been widely released throughout Asia, typically to great commercial and critical success.
Some aspects of Red Cliff’s back story are not explicitly stated in the film. This is not a disadvantage to most Chinese audiences who are familiar with the characters and events. The film, who’s tittle references the location for the climactic battle of the Three Kingdoms era, is based upon The Chronicles of Three Kingdoms, an official historical account of a period of division and Civil War in the wake of the collapse of the Han Dynasty. This means that the film deviates from some of the aspects of the 14th Century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, recognized as one of the four great novels of classical Chinese literature.

In short, the events leading up to the Battle of the Red Cliffs are as follows. The Han Dynasty, already in a weakened state is thrown into confusion after the death of the Emperor. His two prepubescent sons, born of different mothers are used by relatives who jockey for the thrown. This causes many alliances to be formed and broken. After a long period of fighting there are only three sides left, each controlling an area of the Empire.

Of the three sides Cao Cao controls the North and with it the capital city and the remaining son, now made Emperor, but in reality only a figurehead. Cao Cao has massive numbers of troops and industrial capacity and rules by the use of fear and mistrust. For the events of the film he decides to move against the last two challengers to his ultimate victory. The first of these is Liu Bei, a distant relative of the Emperor and hence member of the Royal Family. When the era began he was a minor official who never sought power for himself. Later on he was given a secret mandate by the imprisoned Emperor to restore the Dynasty and defeat Cao Cao. Liu is honest and generous, leading by example and personal loyalty. By the time of the film he has been beaten back to the South-East and only has a small force remaining at his command. The second man is Sun Quan who holds a hereditary claim upon the South-West. He is a shrewd leader who has hung back for the majority of the conflict and because of this, still controls many major cities as yet untouched by the war. In the film Liu Bei and Sun Quan must join forces to somehow turn back Cao Cao’s great conquest.

Mainland China, Director John Woo, Cast Song Jia, Hu Jun, Zhang Feng-Yi, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Takeshi Kaneshiro, 140 minutes, in Mandarin with English subtitles.

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