A Real (Red) Cliff Hanger...

Red Cliff (赤壁) is Asia's most expensive movie ever though its turned that huge price tag into cinema success scoring big results across Asia, none more so than in China where lines at theaters have been far longer than usual. The movie is full of famous stars including Tony Leung, Takeshi Kanishiro, Hu Jun, Lin Chiling, and Zhao Wei and almost had Chow Yun-fat, though he may make an appearance in part 2. Of course this is to be expected as its directed by the celebrated director John Woo, who takes his first stab at historical drama.

The movie tells the story of the time leading up to the Three Kingdoms period, instantly familiar with all Chinese due to the classic book, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Cao Cao, the evil prime minister, usurps the power of the week Han Emperor and uses it to wage war against two southern warlords, Liu Bei and Sun Quan.

There is one way to best describe this movie, LONG. All told, it is to last over 4 hours, but part 1, which is currently in cinemas, clocks in at 146 minutes. Part 2 is expected out in January 2009 and will include a simultaneous release of a foreign version, in which parts 1 and 2 will be cut to a (far more manageable) two and a half hour movie.

Watching the movie, its quite obvious the scenes that could be cut as many of them end up inducing sleep in patrons. The movie moves extremely slowly and there are far too many scenes of horses running (and shots showing only the hooves) or blurry battlefield scenes with blood flying everywhere, it almost feels like deja vu much of the time.

What the supposed US$80 million budget bought John Woo, I have no idea, because the fight scenes and effects were similar to your run-of-the-mill historical series on CCTV. In fact, much of the time that's exactly what this movie felt like. My ultimate gripe with this movie, though, is that there is no ending. Stories should have a beginning, middle, and ending, and Woo forgot the ending. Of course that will come in part 2, but why (like only a tv series would) leave everybody waiting 6 months to actually see the end (okay, I know why, the money, but still!)? That's not even the issue, though, he could have kept it as 2 parts and still given it an ending, like stopping it right after the big land battle instead of letting it drag on.

If you're not a huge fan of Romance of the Three Kingdoms or one of the movie's stars, save your money and wait for the edited version. This unedited version is hubris of maniacal proportions, Woo's just lucky the audiences have been duped into coming out and watching it.

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