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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

CHI BI / RED CLIFF (2008)


After his slow fade as a commercial Hollywood helmer, John Woo returned to China. But not to his Hong Kong action/thriller roots. Instead, Woo reinvented himself with this huge historical epic, a project more on the order of Yimou Zhang’s HERO/’02. Well received abroad, the film hardly made a peep in the U.S. though it’s certainly worth seeing, a huge improvement over recent Woo offerings. (2004 found Woo helming a LOST IN SPACE tv pilot!) The story follows three great armies who will decide the future of the Han dynasty. The armies of the South & the West are portrayed (in storybook fashion) as the Good Guys. And naturally they are vastly outnumbered by the evil North. But the underdogs have some tricks that may turn the tide (or rather) the wind in their favor. Woo always claimed that his greatest wish while in Hollywood was to make a musical and here, in his staging of vast armies and battle overviews, he lets his inner Busby Berkeley out to grand effect. But the film is at its most memorable when Takeshi Kaneshiro ‘steals’ 100,000 arrows from the enemy. Kaneshiro also steals the movie as the great war tactician who uses weather patterns as a great general uses troops, the Napoleon of meteorologists. What a shame that Woo blows the staging on the final show-down climax. Some of the miniature & CGI work is less convincing then it should be and the film has obviously had its running time cropped for Stateside release (characters, motivation & strategies feel truncated). But on its own term, as a sort of boy’s own war adventure pic, it’s very entertaining.

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