Battle of Red Cliff, The (Chi bi) (Blu-ray) (2008)

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Released 5-Jan-2010

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Interviews-Crew-Director John Woo
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2008
Running Time 147:34
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By John Woo
Studio
Distributor
China Film Group
Icon Entertainment
Starring Tony Leung
Takeshi Kaneshiro
Zhang Fengyi
Chang Chen
Zhao Wei
Hu Jun
Chiling Lin
Shidou Nakamura
You Yong
Ba Sen Zha Bu
Zang Jinsheng
Case ?
RPI $49.95 Music Tarô Iwashiro


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown Mandarin DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Before heading off to Hollywood, director John Woo made some of the best Hong Kong action films ever! The Killer (1989), A Better Tomorrow I & II (1987 / 1988) or Hard Boiled (1992), to name only a few, are wonderful cinema; action packed, exciting, innovative with themes of honour, loyalty and brotherhood between men. And pigeons. Now, with Red Cliff John Woo returns to his Chinese roots with a film of massive proportions. Think Spartacus plus Lord of the Rings and you start to get the idea. Red Cliff is a huge, old fashioned, spectacular historical epic in every sense.

     In 208 AD, in the last days of the Han Dynasty, Prime Minister Cao Cao (Zhang feng-yi) bullies the weak Emperor into ordering an attack against the two southern "rebel" kingdoms of Liu Bei (You Yong) and Sun Quan (Chang Chen). When the massive force of infantry, cavalry and ships led by Cao Cao captures Liu Bei's capital, he sends strategist Kongming/Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) to seek an alliance with Sun Quan. There Kongming meets Viceroy Zhou Yu (Tony Leung) and they form a mutual friendship. Their alliance meets with early success in battle against Cao Cao's cavalry. As a result, Cao Cao changes his strategy and builds a massive camp on the Yangtze River opposite the meagre allied forces at Red Cliff. There, before the final decisive battle begins, alliances, friendships and loyalties will be tested, Kongming must come up with some strategies to even the odds and Zhou's beautiful wife Xiao Qiao (Chiling Lin) must decide on a sacrifice that may change the course of Chinese history.

     There is nothing small about Red Cliff. There is a huge cast of characters and fighters, vast sets, extensive use of CGI, a rousing score by Taro Iwashiro and, of course, battle sequences on a massive scale including the climactic final battle opposite Red Cliff that is a spectacle that will not quickly be forgotten. Throw in characteristic John Woo slow motion action, sweeping camera pans (with a pan up and across Cao Cao's armada on the Yangtze River (18:17-18:34) that surpasses that of the Greek fleet in Troy) and breathtaking is not a false description. Due to the huge scale only some characters get a chance to be developed as individuals. Other than the main actors, perhaps the uncompromising General Gan Xing (Shidou Nakamura) and the bear like warrior Zhang Fei (Zang Jinsheng) who knocks horses over, are the best. But in an epic battle film, it is the spectacle and action that is the key and here John Woo delivers. And then some.

     In Asian cinemas Red Cliff was released in two separate parts, followed by two region free Blu-rays with a total running time of 282 minutes (Part I 140 minutes /Part II 142 minutes). I own copies of these two Asian Blu-rays. There is also a Director's Edition Blu-ray available in the UK with an advertised running time of 293 minutes; a similar Blu-ray due for release in Australia in January will be reviewed on this site shortly. However, Red Cliff was released in Australian theatres with a reduced running time which this Blu-ray replicates, so this is the version reviewed here.

     Although clearly a lot of footage has been cut, this shorter version of Red Cliff still works very well indeed. There is an early English narration to outline the political situation and get the action going, but from there the plot is straightforward enough and the characters sufficiently delineated that the events are not hard to follow. And, just in case, the first time each major character is introduced we get a caption showing their name and position. In this shorter version some characters and events have been removed; perhaps the characters of Sun Quan and especially his tomboy sister Sun Shangxiang (Zhao Wei) are most affected. But the friendship between Zhao and Kongming, although the more competitive aspects from the longer cut have gone, is still there as is the essential relationship between Zhao and his wife Xiao Qiao.

     In fact, this is a much tighter film. The heroes and legends of the time of the Three Kingdoms are well known in China through oral tradition and Luo Guanzhong's Romance of the Three Kingdoms (just as Homer's Iliad and the heroes and legends of the Trojan War are known in the west) and so the longer version of Red Cliff takes the time to explore incidents and characters that are not actually essential to the telling of the main evens. Taken on its own merits, this shorter version of Red Cliff at 147 minutes is an exhilarating action film, with all the old John Woo trademarks; intense slow motion action, sweeping story telling, loyalty, friendship and brotherhood. And pigeons! It is a different film from the longer version, with a different feel but, make no mistake, it is magnificent cinema in its own right. If you are interested in John Woo, or old fashioned historical epic films, get hold of both versions. You will not be disappointed.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    The aspect ratio of Red Cliff is 2.35:1, the original theatrical ratio, and it is 16x9 enhanced. This print is just stunning: the flapping banners, the armour, the weapons, the shipping and locations are vibrant in their intensity, full of depth, colour and clarity (which in fact makes some of the CGI shots look a bit ordinary). Skin tones are natural, blacks solid and shadow detail wonderful. When the fires take hold they leap from the screen. I did not see any artefacts. In a word: wow!

English subtitles are in a clear white font that is smaller than usual which sometimes makes the words difficult to read, especially against light backgrounds. The spelling is American English: otherwise I did not see any spelling or grammatical errors.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Audio for Red Cliff is a Mandarin DTS HD MA 5.1 track that rocks! There are constant directional cues in the surrounds as arrows fly, horses gallop past or weapons clash. At other times the surrounds are fully utilised for background noise, including the fire storm, and music. The subwoofer supports the explosions, fire effects, horse hooves, weather events and anything else going. Dialogue is clear but lip synchronisation is occasionally slightly off, but this is not distracting.

The epic, rousing orchestral score by Taro Iwashiro is heard clearly and fully supports the viewing experience.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

John Woo Interview, 16:01 minutes.

Director John Woo speaks in English about Red Cliff; how he had wanted to make the film for 20 years, the influence of epic films such Ben Hur and Lawrence of Arabia, filming in China again, stunt horses, his themes of loyalty, friendship and love plus his trademark pigeons! Worth a look.

Behind the Scenes, 20:53 minutes.

This is raw on set footage with a linking narration (Chinese with subtitles). It is disjointed, with frequent cuts to black, but includes some interesting film from the set.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There has not been a Blu-ray release of Red Cliff in the USA. In Asia Red Cliff is released in two parts; both have a range of True HD 7.1 audios, trailers, various interviews and a photo gallery. However, while the film has English subtitles, the extra features do not. There is also a special edition Blu-ray available in the UK with an advertised running time of 293 minutes which is likely to be the same as the "Director's Cut" that has a tentative release date of 6 January in Australia. This shorter version (advertised at 148 minutes) is also available in the UK. Call it a draw.

Summary

    Before heading off to Hollywood, director John Woo made some of the best Hong Kong action films ever! Now, with Red Cliff John Woo returns to his Chinese roots with a film of massive proportions. Taken on its own merits, this shorter version of Red Cliff at 147 minutes is an exhilarating action film, with all the old John Woo trademarks; intense slow motion action, sweeping story telling, loyalty, friendship and brotherhood, and pigeons! It is a different film from the longer version, with a different feel; and it is magnificent cinema in its own right. The video and audio are first class, the extras limited. If you are interested in the films of John Woo, or old fashioned historical epics, get hold of both versions. You will not be disappointed.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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