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.