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Woo shows mastery of epic genre in 'Red Cliff II'

Woo shows mastery of epic genre in 'Red Cliff II'

John Woo's ambitions were clear when he announced the $80 million two-part Chinese historical epic "Red Cliff."
The "Mission: Impossible II" director wanted to make a Chinese-language blockbuster that rivaled the Hollywood productions he worked on.
In "Red Cliff II," it's clear that the Hong Kong native succeeded, putting the "epic" in "historical epic" in the second installment of his two-part series based on the famous ancient Chinese battle of the same name.
The film is about a fight between the imperial army and two allied warring states, which won because of their superior military strategy despite being outnumbered.
While "Red Cliff" thrived in storytelling, introducing and weaving together a colorful cast of characters, its sequel, which focused on the final showdown, showed off Woo's mastery of some of the largest and most complex scenes in modern Chinese cinema.
The Chinese market has been rife with historical epics in recent years, wowing audiences with sheer scale and the manpower involved in their fighting scenes. But Woo one-ups his rivals with a gigantic battle fought on several fronts _ both land and sea _ and keen attention to detail.
With help from California-based special effects company, The Orphanage, Woo captures the grandeur of the battle scenes best known to Chinese audiences _ like the rebels burning the imperial army's fleet and sending in boats staffed with straw dummies to attract a sea of arrows.
The war scenes are as impressive in scale as in detail.
Woo shows the rebel soldiers making bombs by packing explosives into clay urns, and extracting the oil from fish to use as an accelerant.
The only pitfall is that the battle's magnificence overshadows Woo's characters, anchored by strong performances by Cannes-winning Hong Kong actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai as the rebel leader Zhou Yu; China's Zhang Fengyi as the imperial prime minister Cao Cao; and Japanese-Taiwanese heartthrob Takeshi Kaneshiro as the rebel military strategist Zhuge Liang.
The director also shows a penchant for melodrama when he sends Zhou's wife, played by Taiwanese model Lin Chi-ling, to seduce Cao. But the side plot only serves to bog down the narrative and delay the spectacular climax.
Woo is only releasing a single, condensed version of the movie _ halving the total five-hour running time of the two-part series _ for markets outside of Asia. It's a welcome opportunity to cut out the fat and focus on the main characters and technical sophistication of his battle scenes.
The film is currently playing in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, and is due out in South Korea on Jan. 22.


Updated : 2021-08-01 20:13 GMT+08:00