In 208 A.D., in the final days of the Han Dynasty, shrewd Prime Minster Cao convinced the fickle Emperor Han the only way to unite all of China was to declare war on the kingdoms of Xu in the west and East Wu in the south. Thus began a military campaign of unprecedented scale. Left with no other hope for survival, the kingdoms of Xu and East Wu formed an unlikely alliance.
09 Feb Red Cliff (2008)
I am not a fan of Woo, and the reason becomes more stark when you compare this to Zhang‘s work.
Zhang creates a world of grace in which people move, affected by the laws of that world. They can act, based on the values in their souls, but those values can be pure or perverted as they are drawn from the world. When that world is conflated with the ‘the land‘ of China, well then the battles matter. We can pull great cinematic strokes from this.
Woo in contrast, creates a world we can only call bulky. It is stuffed with things, things in great numbers. Some of those exist only as units in the sea of similar objects and most humans are treated this way. Above that are some legendary characters. This ‘two kinds of human‘ concept messes with Woo‘s delivering the battles.
Battle photography, in order to work, needs make choices. You can focus on the tactics, and how the seas of soldiers basically outwit each other. You can focus on the immediate chaos and the brutality on a human level with the massive horror it brings on individuals. Or you can go for the sweep of the world, as if it were yet another weather pattern. (This is what Kurosawa brought us.) Or, if you are from Hong Kong, you can just use the masses as background through which our heroes move with superhuman agility, killing hundreds just because.
Woo has decided to have it all, all four of these in the same grand battles. It is unnerving if you are a serious viewer of film. As soon as you have settled into a contract with the filmmaker to enter the world he creates, he swaps it out opportunistically. This is a cinematic gluttony that one can see in modern Shanghai. There is no sense, so when things are made large the nonsense becomes overwhelming.
There is a minifilm in here, possibly 15 minutes or so, that you can cobble together of the parts that focus on the beauty Chiling Lin in her first role. She plays the wife of the main hero, the desire for whom by the Prime Minister may have been the reason for the war. Woo in these segments moves into even territory of Korean Kim Ki-Duk. Her body moves as calligraphy, she speaks timeless phrases. Her grace in the tea ceremony is hypnotising.
Posted in 2012
Ted’s Evaluation — 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.