1. Red Cliff, Part I
John Woo sees his Red Cliff as an oriental Troy. The epic is the most expensive Asian film ever with a budget of US$80 million. Woo, the Hong Kong film idealist who has previously made Hollywood blockbusters like Face/Off and Mission Impossible II, has this time taken on ancient Chinese legend as his challenge. A decade ago he said he could not even imagine such huge technical and financial support. The film, based on the historic Battle of Red Cliffs at the end of the Han Dynasty and immediately prior to the period of the Three Kingdoms in China, had to be split into two parts due to Woo's ambition and the length of the epic story – and maybe also the interests of investors who wanted to make more money from the project.
We don't know for sure if Red Cliff is based on the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms or the more historical Chronicle of Three Kingdoms, but what John Woo presents is his own personal vision and interpretation of the Three Kingdoms story. Starring A-list movie personalities Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen, Hu Jun, Lin Chi-ling and Zhao Wei, the film paints a broad canvass. Woo certainly knows how to tell a good story by taking advantage of his Hollywood experience, but part I is still a little lame and slow in parts. Some dialogue mixes old-school and modern terminology, which sounds a little strange to the ear.
Chinese people may laugh, although a foreigner won't notice the difference. They are more likely to be concentrating on the exciting battle scenes that highlight Woo's talents in the art of violence. But it is the second part, to be screened from January 7, 2009, that presents the most important part of the epic. Woo has reportedly woven a pacier plot together with make-you-scream battle scenes. Personally, we would prefer to see all the storylines packaged in one rather than two Red Cliffs. That might come as close to perfection as this kind of epic can, with a director's cut later.
Anyway, the first film was 2008's biggest blockbuster, grossing 320 million yuan (US$46.85 million) in China alone. Beating Zhang Yimou's Hero (2008), Red Cliff is already the highest grossing Chinese movie in Chinese motion picture history, and second only to Titanic as the highest grossing movie ever screened on the Chinese mainland. Industry insiders are expecting part 2 to sink Titanic's box office record of 360 million yuan (US$52.7 million). Undoubtedly, Red Cliff is China's movie phenomenon of the year, and will continue to be THE ONE in 2009.