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.