Red Cliff
This is old school Capture the Flag.

Theatrical Release Date: 11/25/2009 (USA), 07/02/2008 (CHINA)
Director: John Woo
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Fengyi Zhang, Chen Chang, Wei Zhao, Jun Hu, Chiling Lin, Shido Nakamura, Yong You, Ba Sen Zha Bu, Yong Hou

Finally getting a release stateside is director/co-writer John Woo’s “Red Cliff”. For Chinese history buffs, this is a story you know well related to the Three Kingdoms period (specifically a battle that took place in 208 A.D.). For video game enthusiasts, there’s about 73 Koei games that rehash this plot and a new one seemingly gets released every few months.

If you’re neither history buff nor gamer, all you need to know is that a wannabe ruler of the lands is the typical corrupt warlord and the two leaders of the only unconquered lands band together, resulting in a test of strategy, military might and fighting prowess.

Fans of the genre will readily take to the film, as Woo’s better qualities are on display here. The action is well composed and there’s just something fun about watching one guy beat the crap out of twenty henchmen. And there are some white birds on display, so that trademark of Woo’s is intact.

The story is somewhat convoluted and obviously truncated for the sake of time but that’s just what you have to do so I wasn’t too annoyed. I should also note that this review is based on the U.S. theatrical release which runs around two and a half hours. The complete version is actually two films that span over four hours. In speaking with people who have seen Woo’s full vision, I’m inclined to think that this shortened version is more palatable to wider audiences. It condensed the story and kept the action at a premium, helping with the pacing.

All of the actors do a nice job here, the production quality is very high and it was great fun to see so many combatants on-screen at the same time. Woo was able to use some of the actual Chinese Army to stand-in as soldiers and it paid off big time, allowing to increase the scale of the film to proportions more worthy of the story.

Those of you looking for something more akin to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” or any other films where the characters have super-human abilities to jump and fight will get a portion of that here. The Generals in each army are capable of wiping out plenty of lesser foes all by themselves but there isn’t a load of wire work on display and it’s more that they have an increased strength and stamina over their opponents.

All in all, I had a great time letting Woo’s visual flair and fight scenes transport me back in time and give “Red Cliff” a 3.5 out of 5. It certainly delivers on its premise and stacks up nicely to other films in the genre. As many of the fight scenes involve dozens and hundreds of people on-screen at the same time, this is a film best seen on the big screen but if you can’t find it near you, make sure to use that big HDTV you get on sale this Black Friday.