john woo's red cliff: epic, badass and awesome

Here's the official new trailer for Red Cliff, John Woo's historical drama based on the legendary 208 A.D. battle that heralded the end of the Han Dynasty. It finally opens in select U.S. theaters next month. I attended a screening of the movie last night, and holy smokes, it's kind of awesome. Epic. That's really the only way to describe it.

After dabbling in Hollywood for a while, it's been too long since John Woo made a decent movie. This is his attempt to bring massive Hollywood scale and spectacle to a Chinese story, and he does it all with signature Woo flourish and grandeur -- doves, slow-motion, man-to-man standoffs -- all of it.

In Red Cliff, budgeted at an estimated $80 million -- the most expensive Chinese movie ever made, and it shows -- the director goes all out, and doesn't exercise a whole lot of restraint. Sometimes this is a bad thing, and sometimes this is a great thing.

There is a lot going on in this movie. And this is just the re-edited two-and-a-half-hour version, spliced together from two even longer parts. Luckily, the movie opens with this awkward, booming voiceover that explains what's supposedly happening at this point in Chinese history, along with some handy graphics explaining who everyone is. It's weird, but I won't lie -- it was helpful.

Like I said, you know all that signature John Woo stuff he likes to do? It's all there, it ain't subtle, and there's a lot of it. And sometimes, it drags. There are a couple of deep, annoying flaws, mainly having to do with pacing.

Having said that, the last third of the movie -- the actual battle at Red Cliff -- is quite possibly the greatest battle scene I've ever seen in any movie. The scope of this production -- the sets, the costumes, the fight choreography -- is absolutely fantastic. It is a cinematic spectacle of awesomeness.

Woo has assembled a pretty impressive cast, including Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei, and a bunch of other great actors who look great in period costume and do a fine job swinging a spear and looking epic. But I felt like these characters and their relationships were sacrificed a bit in lieu of the previously mentioned awesomeness.

By the way, I should add that I heard from Tamlyn Tomita via email a few weeks back, after she saw the film. Apparently, she liked it. The short version of her review: "one word to describe this film besides the presence of tony leung and takeshi kaneshiro.... STRATEGERY!!!"

Strategery, indeed. Bottom line: If you want to see badass Chinese dudes doing some really badass Chinese battle stuff, Red Cliff is for you. Anyway, the movie premieres on VOC, XBOX Live and Amazon on October 22, and opens in actual theaters on November 20. For more information, watch the trailer on YouTube here and visit Magnolia's Red Cliff website here.

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