BLU-RAY REVIEW: Red Cliff
John Woo returns to China to make a masterpiece...
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John Woo has best become known for his intense actioners, including fan-favorites classics like The Killer and Hard Boiled. Now, after spending the last decade making films in America - including Mission Impossible II, Face-Off, Windtalkers, and Paycheck) - he's returned to China to make another masterpiece: Red Cliff.
The highest budgeted and grossing film in Chinese history, Red Cliff tells the tale of a famous historic Chinese battle which took place nearly 1,800 years ago. The likes of which have rarely been seen in cinema, the Battle for Red Cliff is well known in China and is similar to the Battle of Thermopylae with the 300 Spartans in that it was truly warfare on a scale rarely seen.
While Red Cliff received limited release in the USA, thanks to Magnolia Home Entertainment, two versions of the film are available on Blu-ray: the full 5+ hour, two-disc "Original International Version," or a shortened 2.5 hour single-disc version. Granted, most fans of this sort of film will appreciate the complete, uncut version; however (and sadly), a 5+ hour film scares many US fans.
The film itself finds focus on a number of well known and almost mythological Chinese warriors, including leaders Cao Cao and Zhou Yu (and well as Yu's beautiful wife Xiao Qiao), Zhu-ge Liang, Sun Quan, Zhao Yun and others. Bringing these warriors and generals to life is done with both beautiful detail and action and fans of gaining the best understanding of characterization are better off checking out the full-length version of the film.
The shorter version (at 148 minutes) cuts much of the previously mentioned characterization, as well as backstories and minor plots, allowing the major themes of loyalty, honor, courage, and commitment to stand out and shine. In fact, the US version - for a 2.5 hour film - feels almost too short to those who've seen the longer version.
The film itself features gorgeous visuals thanks in no small part to the beautiful direction of John Woo. The battles are intense and brutal, but there's little concern for the shaky camera work that's become so popular among action films as of late. Woo's direction is both solid, easy to watch, and impressive as he gracefully tells a story that every Chinese man, woman and child to this day knows.
The 1080p picture beautifully captures the impressive colors - bright fire in bold yellow, orange and reds, dirty sand and plains in browns, reds, and tans. Likewise, the audio is impressive. For purists, the US version includes both an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 dub that's good (though I've never preferred to watch a subtitled film in my native language) as well as the original Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, which is most impressive and gives the actor's full performances. Likewise, the battle scenes truly come to life thanks to generous use of the rear channels - be it arrows seeking a target, the clash of swords and spears, the bang of war drums, or the stampeding horses charging to war.
The US version also includes a generous amount of bonus features, including a nearly 2.5 hour long "The Making of Red Cliff: The Long Road," which will impress fans who are looking for a "making of" that's nearly as long as the film. The feature includes interviews with darn near everyone, behind-the-scene footage, production notes, commentary from director John Woo and much more. For those looking for additional John Woo face time, "A Conversation with John Woo: The Heroism and History of Red Cliff" comes in at nearly 30 minutes and is very informative as talk show host Leo Quinones interview Woo. A short (4+ min) "HDNet: A Look at Red Cliff" supplement is also included which includes a brief promo for the film. Lastly, a selection of storyboards from the film are also included. For those looking for what else Magnolia has in store for future film releases, previews for The Warlords, District 13: Ultimatum, Ong Bak 2, and Wonderful World are also included.
Red Cliff is the sort of film you don't just watch, you experiance it. Full of beautiful set design, costume design, intense battle sequences, an intriguing story, and sheer passion; Red Cliff - even in its shorten 2.5 hour form is a masterpiece of cinema. For those who can watch and enjoy a 5+ hour film, I thoroughly suggest the longer "Original International Version" (even though it doesn't have an English dub - you've been warned!). However, for those casual fans who are looking for an amazing Chinese film experiance that's (only) 2.5 hours long ans is enticing, enthralling and sheer beauty to behold, you'd be hard pressed to find better than Red Cliff.
- Jess C. Horsley