Cast: Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro
Direction: John Woo
Action and John Woo, the Hong Kong director, has meant such cult combat-fests as Broken Arrow and the widely imitated Face/Off. Then came the fall from grace — a hokey thriller titled Paycheck (2003) — and the Hollywood studio honchos seem to have bought him a one-way ticket to home.
Indeed, Woo appeared to have been eclipsed by the more news-making Ang Lee and Wong Kar-Wai. Now the upbeat news is the super action auteur has fashioned a sumptuous-looking period picture that is deservedly rated as the major Asian movie event of the year.
Reportedly, Red Cliff is the realisation of the director’s long-cherished dream to adapt Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the 14th century epic Chinese novel into a film that has a universal resonance and reiterates the importance of pacifism in a strife-torn world.
Yesterday’s godfather of ‘gun-fu’ now smoothly narrates a plot about a braveheart general (Leung) and his war strategist (Kaneshiro) who foil the attempts of a Machiavellian minister (Zhang Fengyi). Released originally in two parts, it’s believed to be the costliest Chinese movie production at an estimated cost of US $80 million.
The 4-hour spectacular has been condensed into a single 150 minutes movie for international consumption. More damagingly, it’s being shown here in an English dubbed version featuring an inept local voice cast.
Breathtakingly styled — reminding us of Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha as it were — the film’s dramaturgy alternates between intricately choreographed battle scenes (the finale is knockout) and lyrical passages involving the braveheart general and his doll-like wife (Ching Lin), an expert at the traditional Chinese tea ceremony.
Characteristically, Woo employs slow motion and his trademark pigeons fluttering into the frame as message carriers.
Of the expert cast, Tony Leung, whom you may remember from In The Mood for Love is particularly effective. Woo’s back in form and how. Go ahead and taste the thunder.