The Battle of Chibi

The Battle of Chibi (or Red Cliff) is a decisive and important battle that led to the solidification of the Three Kingdoms, the historical period between around 180AD and 280AD following the demise of the Han Dynasty. Cao Cao rose to power in the Northern court, ruling over the puppet Emperor and by around 208, Cao Cao decided to march South and unite China by defeating his arch-enemies, Liu Bei and Sun Quan. This marching of the south campaign was when the Battle of Chibi happened and Cao Cao’s decisive defeat in this battle created the north-south divide and the division of China into three kingdoms, Wei (Cao Cao), Shu (Liu Bei) and Wu (Sun Quan).

The stories of this Three Kingdom period have been widely told, whether in Chinese opera or in literature and the most famous of them all is Lo Guanzhong’s “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. Lo borrowed some historical material and romanticised the story, often exaggerating the characters especially that of Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhuge Liang and adding romance and magic (especially that of Zhuge Liang) to the story. John Woo joined the fray and made RED CLIFF and I was at the media screening today.

I have high expectations for RED CLIFF and I have been waiting for this movie for quite some time. This is what I thought after watching the movie:

1. I like the portrayal of the character of Zhou Yu, played by Tony Leung Chiu Wai. It showed him to be quite a personality, a great strategist with a great heart. This is unlike what is portrayed in Lo’s novel (although the movie draws a lot from the novel) and RED CLIFF is successful in avoiding the myopia created by Lo. However, I didn’t think that the bandaging part done with his wife, Xiao Ciao (played by the beautiful Lin Chi-ling) warrants such an extended screen time.

2. I thought that the movie dealt with some strategical aspect of the war quite well, in a way that the general audience can relate to.

What I didn’t like:

1. The main characters are over-played. I understand that the director would like each character to have very distinct personality but at the end, what we felt about the characters is this: Liu Bei (loser), Zhuge Liang (gay), Zhang Fei (clown), you get it? Yes, these characters are very strong, for example, I took greatest offense on the portrayal of Zhang Fei. He is a very brave, smart but sometimes loud person but the movie made him look so clumsy, stupid and stubborn. Another example is Liu Bei. He is a stateman who has a great heart for people and citizens, and that is the reason why great people like Zhuge Liang and Guan Yu followed him. But in this movie, this aspect of him has been so thoroughly exploited, he looked weak, meek, and a loser.

2. The movie sometimes look like a rip-off from a computer game, especially so the opening of the movie. The CGI work put me off initially but luckily the strength of the story pulled me back in.

3. The battle scene with the cavalry involving the Bagua formation is rather disappointing. I do not mean the execution of the scene, which is alright but the logic of it. Why would the commander risks the life of his greatest generals and put them to fight with the enemy troops while he still has many of his soldiers capable of surrounding and killing the enemy, especially so if the Bagua formation is so successful? To further exaggerate it, the commander, i.e. Zhou Yu, put his own life in jeopardy as well. This logic didn’t click with me.

Overall, I don’t think this is a bad movie but instead, I thought it is rather good, except that it can be better, for me at least. Also, the movie is in two parts and we can only watch the second part some time in December 08, so this is not much fun, even if I already know the story and how it concludes.

Ok then, initial top line thoughts. I think I will go and watch this movie again and maybe will comment about it more then.


Filed under Movie Review, Movies

9 responses to “The Battle of Chibi

  1. Hi Ho —

    Wondered when you’d be able to catch a screening of the film… ;b

    As for myself, watched it on Monday. My review will be in the issue of bc magazine that comes out on 17 July. Unfortunately, however, we’re currently without a designer other than my boss — hence the website not having been updated for a couple of weeks now! ;(

  2. fallingstones

    Hi YTSL, I have actually seen the movie today, hence the thoughts. Will be eager to read your review ;-) and oh my, your boss should better hire the designer asap!

  3. Falling Stones,

    Interesting review. Haven’t watched the movie yet but I think your review in more or less spot on.

    Was the fact that Cao Cao attacked because he desired to possess the Qiao sisters overstressed too?

    Liu Bei being potrayed as a loser may not be too far off. He was charismatic and virtuous enough but in the end, he was indecisive and found wanting. Despite having Zhuge Liang and a host of other master strategists and valiant warriors, he could not make full use of them to overcome Cao Cao.


  4. fallingstones

    Hi Avatar, yes, indeed the fact that Cao Cao craves for Xioa Qiao have also been romanticised in the movie and I believe we will see more action from the Xioa Qiao character in part 2.

    Liu Bei is actually a very intriguing personality and I believe that he is more than what was portrayed in the movie. It is hard for me to imagine that such a team of great people can find respect in a person that is so very weak….

  5. Yes, it’s quite a mystery for me why so many great heroes like Zhao Yun, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Zhuge Liang, Pang Tong, Huang Zhong and a host of many capable men would follow him.

    Perhaps he was a great humanitarian, just not decisive enough. If he had accepted Liu Biao’s offer to take over, things may have turned out differently.

    Anyway, the Three Kingdoms era was an interesting time, though.

  6. fallingstones

    Yeah, the Three Kingdoms era was really interesting. There are also other interesting periods in China, such as during the North South dynasties and we have Jin Yong who wrote excellent novels based on these other periods in Chinese history. It is very rich.

    I am so looking forward to the second part, and now having watched this movie for the second time (second time was in Singapore where the love making part between Zhou Yu and Xiao Qiao wasn’t censored as much as in Malaysia).

    Second time around, the movie just is a lot more better. This is really a very good movie indeed, although I still don’t like how Zhang Fei was portrayed. But I found new appreciation for the CGI works.

  7. i think Zhou Yu was shoot by arrow in purpose by john woo. in the second episode, Zho You (as mentioned in novel) was dead because of his wound and because he is very angry with Zhuge Liang.

    That’s why in first episode, Zhou Yu was getting shoot by arrow …. it just a wound that make him die reasonably in ep.2 (in the novel Zho yu dead because he is frustated after tricked by Zhuge Liang 3 times in row … i think nobody will like if the great Zho Yu dead because silly thing like in the novel … that’s why he is getting shoot at the first episode. ;) )

  8. fallingstones

    hi adwin. Thanks for commenting ;-) but sorry for not being able to reply earlier.

    I think in the novel, Zhugo Liang has been over romanticised and the role of Zhou Yu has been quite under played. This is one reason why I like this movie, especially so on how Zhou Yu’s character is shown. He is really a brilliant guy.

  9. Joe

    I liked both parts alot. I laughed so hard in the 2nd part when Sun Shang Xiang got a crush on the star jock athlete on Wei. Even the warrior princess falls for the star athlete. XD

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