Movie Review: Red Cliff (Chi bi)

Movie Review: Red Cliff (Chi bi)


Red Cliff

This review is for John Woo’s original 4 hour vision: Red Cliff parts 1 and 2, NOT the butchered 2 and a half hour Western release.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Directed By: John Woo

Starring: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Fengyi Zhang, Chen Chang

Plot Synopsis:

After directing stylish action films such as The Killers and Face-Off, director John Woo turns to Chinese history for inspiration with Red Cliff. The Han Dynasty is facing its death in third century China, and the emperor raises a million-man army against two kingdoms that are hopelessly outmatched. This war film stars Tony Leung, reuniting with John Woo since Hard Boiled.


John Woo can be considered a legend of Asian Cinema.  Unfortunately, his dive into Western Cinema was more of a splat.  After the awesomeness of Hard Target and the success of Face-Off, he delivered clunkers such as Windtalkers, Mission Impossible II, and Paycheck.  People wondered where the magic went.  With Red Cliff, John Woo proves that his magic lies in China.  Red Cliff is John Woo’s most ambitious and visually stunning film to date.


Tony Leung Chiu Wai as Zhou Yu in Red Cliff

Red Cliff is a dense film.  There is a lot of story and a handful of characters to follow.  However, as this rich story unfolds the action set pieces are beyond breathtaking and totally satisfying.  Using the historical record Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms as a blueprint for the film, John Woo and screenwriter Khan Chan sprinkled in some of the more fantastic elements from the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms.  What we have with Red Cliff is historical mixed with fantastical and the result is pure spectacle and entertainment.

The acting in Red Cliff is strong, every character is fleshed out and memorable no matter how much screen time they’re given.  Even with strong supporting characters, the 4 leads are excellent and these performances will be remembered for years.  Tony Leung Chiu Wai (Hard Target) plays Zhou Yu and shows a character of quiet confidence and strength.  Takeshi Kaneshiro as Zhuge Liang almost steals the show.  His character is the backbone to the story and isn’t necessarily a fighter, yet a brilliant strategist.  Fengyi Zhang is brilliant as the “villain” of the story.  He plays Cao Cao, who’s motivations are to “unite” China under the Emperor by defeating the 2 southern kingdoms of Sun Quan and Liu Bei.  Finally, Wei Zhao as Sun Shangxiang is the standout female performance.  She’s strong and confident, yet delicate and beautiful.  Her character is a lot of fun and always engaging when on screen.

Red Cliff has some of the most stunningly realized and beautiful battlefield footage I’ve ever seen in a war film.  Sometimes we’re close in on the action, but John Woo’s direction allows for jaw dropping wide shots of the battle being played out.  This is some of the best battlefield footage I’ve seen since Braveheart, though not as brutal.  Because formations were so important in this era of warfare, it’s interesting seeing the formations brought to life in such detail.


A scene from the riviting finale of Red Cliff

John Woo has his masterpiece.  After being a well respected Action director it’s great to see him climb out of the Western Cinema slump and head back to China to do a film.  Red Cliff is the most epic film I’ve seen in a long time.  The scope is breathtaking, the performances top notch and the story is perfectly played out and worthy of many repeat viewings.  Get Red Cliff on Blu Ray (pretty much the only way it should be seen, although Theatrical would be stunning), and make sure you get the 4 hour epic the way John Woo intended this to be seen.  You can get both at

Rated R for sequences of epic warfare.