Red Cliff II (2009)

Director:  John Woo
Cast:  Tony Leung Chiu WaiTakeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen, Lin Chiling, Zhao Wei
Plot:  Based on the events during the Three Kingdoms period in Ancient China in which specifically told in the title, The Battle of Red Cliffs.

Genre:  Action / Drama / War
Awards:  -
Runtime:  146min
Rating:  PG for battle scenes.

John Woo’s Red Cliff II expands on the first film, starting right from where the latter ended.  This is not surprising as Woo shot both films as a whole, chopping it into two halves because of its insanely long runtime of five hours and for monetary reasons.  Interestingly, there is another version of Red Cliff: the condensed one that America got which I feel might be more effective.

The first installment was bravura filmmaking; it boasted solid direction by Woo, exhibited excellent story and character developments, and was one of my top ten films of the first half of 2008.  Red Cliff II, on the other hand, falls short of its predecessor, and falls short of my expectations of an ambitious Chinese production, and especially one by John Woo.  

While most of the characters have been succinctly developed in the earlier picture, I feel that there is still room for scenes of emotional weight that can exploit the close brotherhood amongst the leading men.  That being said, there is not enough screen time for the supporting cast who were colourful and vibrant in the first film.  Thus, when the battle for Red Cliff finally begins after nearly ninety minutes, the camaraderie and chemistry amongst the characters more than dissipate into the hell of warfare. 

Those itching for battle action in Red Cliff II will find their patience tested.  While some may feel that the building up of the story serves as good fodder for a spectacular climatic battle, I beg to differ. Even though there are flaws, the drama scenes in the first hour are decent enough to sustain interest.  Yet I find it hard to describe the battle sequences in the same way.  While they are technically impressive, they lack grandeur and real excitement. 

The famous naval battle in which Cao Cao’s fleet of warships get burnt one by one, as the fiery flames are spread by gusts of wind, is recreated with some aid from CGI technology.  Unfortunately, Woo’s direction seems like a mess.  There are too many close-up shots of soldiers engulfed in flames, and then there are explosions which are too frequent for my liking.  There are insufficient scenes depicting the scale of the attack which would have been aptly captured with several ‘bird’s eye view’ takes.

The abrupt ending unfortunately leaves little hope for a satisfying conclusion to John Woo’s epic.  On a brighter note, Red Cliff II alone is actually an averagely decent motion picture, despite being inferior to the first movie. 

GRADE: B- (7/10 or 3 stars)

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