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STUDIO: Magnolia Home Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 148 minutes
A brief lesson on the three kingdoms.
Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Chang Chen
Did you ever play Romance of the Three Kingdoms? Well, if you haven’t…this is will be new to you. General Cao Cao is doing his best at the end of the Han Dynasty. Upon asking the Emperor’s favor, he has decided to declare war on his two rival kingdoms. Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang are sent out by their kingdoms to challenge the Warlord. Unfortunately, General Cao Cao has managed to build a legion of soldiers and is threatening to seize both kingdoms.
Epic war films from China normally don’t get American exhibition. Sadly, what has happened is a partial dream fulfilled. Slimmed down to an American friendly 148 minutes, Western audiences will miss the full epic experience of the slightly under five hours experience. After you get past the intense action sequences, Woo throws you into the war room sequences. Breaking down broad and personal scale drama, as we have to understand the various motives that force the conflict forward. But, what does it all mean?
General Cao Cao is my favorite since he’s able to be such a realistic bastard. Sending carrion and dead bodies to the camps of the other kingdoms, plus he’s able to recognize equally treacherous talents in his men. What makes Cao Cao so interesting is that there’s so much more going on with him than being an evil bastard. You look at him and you see a man that wants to do more than simply win a war. He wants to become infamous among the survivors. When he eventually conquers the other kingdoms, he wants to be an ancient Chinese Keyser Soze. So much time is spent on Cao Cao that it leaves the other two leaders in a lacking position.
Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu feel like they are attacking in the wake of Cao Cao. So much power and so much talent, yet Cao Cao is the only one that can effectively lead a charge to inspire fear and terror. Zhuge Liang is the only one who eventually develops as a character on the battlefield, as he moves away from being a political pawn and becomes one of China’s greatest warriors. The sight of a thousand arrows flying in the air towards the flotilla is amazing and it shows the classic Woo flair. You will believe that a strong wind can change the future of a country forever.
Red Cliff works in its shorter American theatrical cut. You might be missing more of the wartime chat, political developments and basic setup between action sequences. A lot of casual viewers will enjoy this, as you get to see more of what John Woo does best. However, having seen both cuts…you feel as though it’s a lessened experience. While Woo movies don’t sport the best scripts, there’s a lot of work placed into this Chinese historical epic. If seeing the full cut makes this a better experience, then I recommend seeking out that edition. If you just want to see a movie that doesn’t suck like Windtalkers, Paycheck or any John Woo film post Hard Boiled, then check this out.
The AVC encoded transfer is flawless and it helps the home viewer to catch details that might’ve been missed during the theatrical experience. Hell, I never knew how many people were stabbed in the throat until watching the Blu-Ray. John Woo’s level of detail coupled with his bizarre dependence on truly warped wire work screws up the person-to-person combat, but it allows for amazing visuals when it comes to crowd scenes. The DTS-HD 5.1 master audio track is reference quality material, as your home theater will get a work out from the dynamic action. It’s comparable to Magnolia’s release of the Complete Epic Cut. But, I thought that was more going on in the back channels during this cut.
sports a couple of featurettes about the film’s historical connections. You also get a brief conversation with John Woo, as he yammers on about the heroes of China’s history. It’s a Magnolia Home Entertainment product, which means that you get the synergy of the HDNet look at the production. The storyboards are rather informative, but feel a bit stale. While this is just the US Theatrical cut, I’d still recommend checking out Red Cliff.