Monday, November 30, 2009

Red Cliff

I have a great love for Chinese historical epics. The sheer spectacle that the filmakers are able to put on screen is testament to the richness of Chinese History and culture. But its also their skill as storytellers and technicians (who are unfortunately virtually unknown to us in the west) that make their movies an untapped treasure. I figure that since they eventually will take over everything it would benefit us in the west to absorb some of their culture besides egg rolls and fortune cookies.

Director John Woo is one who has worked with both Hollywood and the grindhouses of the Hong Kong film industry so you would expect him to attack Chinese history with both eastern style and western flare. He certainly shows here why he is considered one of the world's great filmakers.

I do not expect English translations and can live with subtitles easily when I watch these films but I wish sometimes they would give us in the West a bit more background so we can understand the reasons for the struggles the characters are put under. I get that one king's army is trying to usurp the rule of a brother or an uncle. I just need a point of view to follow. Who should I be rooting for? Without that conflict this is nothing more than a primer on ancient Chinese battle strategies. The English trailers brought me more up to speed than anything the movie initially gave me.

I understand the entire epic was cut down from more than 4 hours to 2.5 hours for the western release. Knowing the film would be aired in the west required much more attention from the editing to what we expect from a film. The epic battle scenes sell the movie alone but give me a hero to root for and people to care about.

The whole time I was watching 'Red Cliff', I keep thinking how perfectly and brilliantly Shakespearean 'The Curse of the Golden Flower' was because it gave both eastern and western style storytelling to enjoy. We not only got a spectacle like few before seen on screen but a brilliantly acted drama about a royal family on the edge of decay. It was the perfect blend.

I also recommend 'House of Flying Daggers' and of course 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' if you can suspend your disbelief and just enjoy two great action adventure movies.

There are some very cool characters in 'Red Cliff' who individually fight amazing battles and portray the kind of honor that strongly appeals to the character of the Chinese people. There are also spectacular battle scenes, particularly one involving Chinese river boats and flaming arrows that can't be missed. I only wish I had been give more of a reason for my involvement in the waring factions and insight into their motivations. I would be interested in seeing the entire epic the way the director intended it to be seen.


erin said...

I'm very excited to see this now!

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

That looks awesome.