Saturday, December 12, 2009

Red Cliff

So yeah, the John Woo that blew up a hospital is alive and well. Pretty sure he wanted to film this story because it had the most explosions in all of Chinese fiction.
They mostly come at the end; leading up to that are a few nifty set pieces -- the arrow theft is particularly awesome -- a few hilarious bits of bullshit about tea or music, and a lot of baffling shots of people staring absently into the distance that largely seem to be dropped in at random by a berserk yet single-minded dadaist who broke into the editing room shortly before it was released.
The opening of the film is probably impossible to follow if you don't already know the story and who all these guys are. I do, but was thrown by bits like the one dude rescuing a baby that turns out to be alive even though it was clearly dead in mid-shot, with blood splattered on its ashen face! I presume they just fucking cut in a close up of the living baby to make Western audiences happy.
But far more baffling is the casting on Cao Cao. The guy playing him is a decent actor, but they could not have found a less imposing actor for the damn role if they'd cast a fucking accountant. He does not project the intelligence, ambition, charisma, or malice to play the role, and consequently Cao Cao just comes off as a weak-minded fool. Supported by the script, which can't think of any way to add a female role than to have one go distract him for a few hours...even though that removes the last shred of the strength they'd left Cao Cao.
Certainly, my impressions of Cao Cao are heavily colored by Souten Kouro's ridiculously bad ass version (which had him lose Red Cliff because he's sick as hell and delirious) but even from an objective standpoint, it would be nice if the villain were a threat beyond the sheer size of his army. If they remembered that he got the massive army by being really good at what he does.
There's a heck of a lot of really impressive looking action and pyrotechnics that definitely make it worth seeing, but in the end, my impressions of it were sort of sealed by Guder sitting behind me, unable to stop snickering as Tony Leung and Takashi Kaneshiro stand four inches away from each other and don't quite make out.


  1. I wasn't quite so pleased, but the movie had it's moments.

    Cao Cao was definitely setup as the archetypal "evil dude taking over the country" kind of character. i.e. completely worthless and without any reason to have been as successful as he had been so far.

    I wasn't really impressed by the special effects at all, though. There was a lot of very dodgey CG in there. Lots of really bad effects which kind of jarred me out of it.

    There were a few good scenes, like the strategist trying to appeal to the Southland ambition to rally them against Cao Cao and the tea ceremony delay tactic was actually a neat little twist.

    But there were too many characters and too many things going on for anything to actually develop into something good.

    I'd compare it to trying to make a movie about the entirety of World War II and keeping ALL of the characters and world leaders intact instead of focusing on just one side of things. Really made me wish more stuff got Wire/Deadwood/Rome-esque miniseries treatment. By people who don't suck.

    And seriously. The end. No dude-on-dude kissing. Standing that close to each other? One man brings his wife, the other his PONY? Something is seriously going on there.

  2. I would like to see in the future if those 1.5 hours missing in the American edit could've made me enjoy this thing a little more.

    Otherwise, pretty disappointed. One prime reason has to do with the fact that Zhuge Liang sort of takes a backseat to Zhou Yu in ths film, and they changed the entire dynamic of the Zhuge Liang/Zhou Yu relationship into this buddy-buddy thing instead of the venomous resentment that was portrayed in the novel.

    Thought I was the only dude who thought about the men kissing at the end, so I'm thankful that I'm not the only one who's mind is in the gutter.

  3. A longer edit might have helped, but I can't say I'd be really optimistic about it. I'd be worried Woo would just waste my time with more of the boring idyllic scenes, like with the lute-playing peasant child, or when the wife recites Sun Tzu over her husband's sword practice to further drive home the point that he's completely perfect.

  4. I found the flute playing peasant child bit HILARIOUS in a total ultimate samurai bullshit moment -- and the importance of the arts is actually a running theme through the book.
    But most reports agree it just pads the waiting bits, and doesn't really make it any more accessible.
    I do think it's odd that they refer to him as Zhuge Liang in promo materials and the like, but the subtitles exclusively refer to him as Kongming, which makes talking about him confusing. Kaneshiro did an interesting take on him, better than I would have expected from such a shallow actor, but he was a bit...nice. He worked best when he was being sort of crazy; smiling inappropriately or controlling the weather.
    Zhou Yu was originally supposed to be Chow Yun-Fat, which would have been supremely terrible casting, and I'm glad he had the sense to drop out. He would have made a great Cao Cao, however.
    I should reread Souten Kouro, cause I really don't remember Zhou Yu in that. He must have been in there, but he sort of took a back seat to his emperor, who is always in the company of a pet tiger.
    Exactly what do these blogger comment boxes do that disables the fucking arrow keys? God damn annoying.