Red Cliff Review
The FilmI can say little of a positive nature about John Woo's career in Hollywood. It seems to me that after the success of Face Off, the director became the go to guy for outlandish thrillers. A succession of worthless B-movie scripts have been given the Woo kitchen sink treatment that could not prevent them from being rank awful. When he decided to return home to make this historical epic on review, it felt like an intervention had taken place and I was relieved that a fine artist may get the chance to create something of value again.
It hasn't been plain sailing though. Casting difficulties, rumours of all sorts of problems, and dead stuntmen have given the impression that Woo may be heading for a fall. And when it emerged that the film would be in two parts, and be over 4 hours in length, further doubts set in. Watching the first part now, it's easy to say that Red Cliff is the kind of project that Woo's mentor made in his pomp and that he would have been proud of completing. I feel that Chang Cheh would have coveted this epic historical tale of chivalry and that Woo has won over the circumstances that beset him.
Woo gives us fantastic battles, his regulation slowmo and many, many shows of selfless honour. Applying himself to the story, he is even restrained enough to wait almost two hours before he uses a symbolic dove, and he even includes his first proper female character. A woman who doesn't loyally wait for her man or sacrifice herself for him, a woman who actually fights and pricks the male pomposity around her. Her existence here is such a revelation that I can forgive the inclusion of far more recognizable demure obedient women in the usual Woo mode.
Don't let me mislead you though, this is a film for men and about men. Masculinity is celebrated in its every noble act, and man on man love is shown to be the greatest love of all. This is the kind of love that expresses itself in back slapping and warm handshakes rather than man juice, mind you. After all, these are macho men who keep the world safe and built upon trustworthy love your brother harmony. Each of the leading men's valour is tested and they each win the right to be part of this virtuous brotherhood.
The earthy action is reflected in the acting and storyline. The cast include some caricatures but the main players give restrained and earnest performances, only coming to life in the fighting. Woo is very respectful to his material and clearly his heroes are ones that he venerates himself.
I doubt that you'll be disappointed by Red Cliff as this is Woo back with brothers and heroic bloodshed on a colossal scale. This is after all what he, like his mentor before him, has always done best.
Transfer and SoundThe AVC encoded transfer framed at 2.35:1 is a thing of some beauty. Incredibly detailed and sharp, and often in danger of showing up the digital effects, colour is given a dusty historical hue with a brownish tone. Contrast is superbly delivered with plenty of shadow detail apparent, and my only real criticism of the video quality is that the image does seem rather processed. As my system allows me to work around it, the flashing of a HD logo courtesy of Mei Ah every 15 to 30 minutes didn't annoy me as much as it will others, but on its own this will discourage many from buying the disc.
Discs and Special FeaturesThis is a dual layer disc with the main film taking up a whopping 39.9GB of the 43.4GB capacity. Unfortunately the wealth of interviews and featurettes presented here are in fact without English options, so my run-down of them is merely a list of what they seem to be. You'll find greater detail in the side panel, but there are a lot of very short interviews, footage of premieres, press conferences and basic promotional stuff such as the trailer and a picture gallery featuring 50 images from the film and its production. The video pieces all are encoded in AVC/MPEG 4 and seem to be in stereo. As for what anyone was saying, well, there, I haven't the foggiest.
SummaryLacking English subs on the extras but with and excellent transfer, this may be just the ticket for the impatient Woo fan. Remember that the intermittent logo is a real drawback if you can't re-work your screen area and may completely ruin the film for some. Do check it out with our good friends at Yesasia if you like an Asian epic or look forward to Woo returning to form.
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