Red Cliff/Chi Bi (Hong Kong/China, 2008, 128 mins.): After a series of moderately successful and mediocre Hollywood films, John Woo takes on the epic Red Cliff, based on the famous Chinese historical event during the Han dynasty, as popularized in the literary classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms . The film's narrative centers on the politically ambitious and ruthless Prime Minister Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi), who seeks to defeat the warlords Liu Bei and Sun Quan, in order to retain a tenuous control of the country under Han rule. But on the side of the warlords are the brilliant military strategists Zhuge liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Zhou Yu (Tony Leung), whose skillful grasp of the art of war enables the vastly outnumbered warlord alliance to not only skirt defeat but also engage Cao Cao's forces in riveting military gamesmanship, culminating in the decisive encounter at Red Cliff. The genius of Woo's film lies in its ability to capture the epic scope of historicity without sacrificing human intimacy. Though the cinematic language is reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, what makes Red Cliff distinctive are the stunning battle sequences infused by the stylistic embellishments of martial arts virtuosity. Even for seasoned kung fu film enthusiasts, the set pieces created by Woo and famous action director Corey Yuen will undoubtedly impress. Red Cliff was originally released as two separate films in Asia in 2008, totaling almost five hours of film. The version screened at the IFS, as part of the Chinese New Year celebrations, is the shortened and quicker-paced U.S. release.
Synopsis: Kenneth Chan