Red Cliff II

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AKA: Red Cliff 2, Red Cliff: The Decisive Battle, Red Cliff Part 2, Red Cliff Part II

Year of release: 2009

Genre: historical action/drama

Director: John Woo

Action directors: Corey Yuen, Dion Lam, Guo Jianyong

Producers: Terrance Chang, Bill Kong, John Woo

Writers: John Woo, Chen Han, Sheng Heyu, Gwok Chang

Cinematography: Lu Yue, Zhang Li

Editors: Angie Lam, Yang Hong-Yu

Music: Iwashiro Taro

Stars: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen, Vicky Zhao, Hu Jun, Lin Chi-Ling, Shido Nakamura, You Yong, Song Jia, Tong Dawei, Hou Yong, Ba Sen Zha Bu, Zang Jinsheng, Zhang Shan, Shi Xiaohong, He Yin

Rated IIB for violence

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John Woo's historical epic draws to a close with this installment. Like the first movie, Red Cliff II clocks in at almost two and a half hours, but Woo's expert direction and some extraordinary action scenes make the time fly by. A lot of people say that Hong Kong cinema is dead, but pictures like this prove there's still at least a pulse.

For those of you who haven't seen part one, the films tell the story of the battle of Red Cliff, a decisive skirmish during the early part of Chinese history, where Zhao Yu (Tony Leung) and his band of rebels successfully spurned the invasion attempt of Prime Minister Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi). Through novels like Romance of the Three Kingdoms (which has been adapted into a series of popular video games) the warlords and generals from the fight have become icons in Chinese culture, even going so far to become near-religious icons, so to say that this story carries some weight is a bit of an understatement.

Benefitting the scope of such a story, the production of Red Cliff had the biggest budget of any Asian movie to date, at $80 million. Things seemed troubled at first, with Chow Yun-Fat leaving the set early on, and the unfortunate death of a stuntman during filming. But the first installment turned out to be a huge hit, breaking records all over Asia, especially in the Mainland market, which seems to be growing in importance nowadays. The movie also was critically acclaimed, with many noting the triumphant return of John Woo to the Asian market after a series of disappointing US films. To cap things off, Red Cliff recently took home several Hong Kong Film Awards.

So, obviously, Red Cliff II has a lot to live up to. Thankfully, it meets (and in some ways) exceeds the standards set forth by the original film. Yes, it's not the greatest movie ever created, but it is really damn good. It stands up well next to many of the classics from the "golden age", and make most of the movies produced in Hong Kong lately look like the cookie-cutter pablum that they are. Red Cliff II is entertainment at its' finest. If this movie doesn't get you pumped up, then it's time to check your pulse, because you're probably in a NyQuil-induced coma and should seek medical attention.

After a brief re-cap of the events of the first movie, we settle into the story here. Both Zhao Yu and Cao Cao's forces have been hurt, so the leaders wage psychological warfare on each other to prepare for the final battle. While some might be disappointed that there isn't much in the way of action for most of the film, John Woo's deft direction and canny handling of the characters makes the exposition scenes compelling stuff to watch.

Of course, the actors' performances weigh in heavily here, and they're more than up to the task. In a genre that often sees cardboard cutouts thrown on the screen, the characters in Red Cliff II come off as wonderfully three-dimensional, to the point that the viewers will agree with the sentiment expressed at the end that "there are no winners", in that the audience comes to like even the villains and are a bit disappointed that someone had to lose.

But Red Cliff II isn't just a game of cat-and-mouse. There is only one real battle scene presented here, but seeing as it runs about forty minutes, anyone but the most nit-picky viewer can't really complain. Employing three action directors, including the legendary Corey Yuen, the battle of Red Cliff is truly epic in every sense of the word.

Even with the spurting blood and severed limbs, you can't but help to think that this is some of the most beautiful footage ever put to celluloid. It's a phenomenal sequence that this reviewer feels will stand the test of time and become enshrined as one of the best battles ever in a movie, not just from a Hong Kong movie, but from anywhere in the world. It ranks right up there with scenes like the storming of Normandy in Saving Private Ryan.

Red Cliff II is a great testament to not only John Woo's abilities, but the strength of Hong Kong film-making as a whole, which shows here that when they're given the right tools to work with, they can still hold their own with the "big boys" of Hollywood. True, the industry nowadays is a shell of its' former glorious self. But films like this thankfully still add a bit of fuel to the fire, and give fans at least a small smidgen of hope that Hong Kong film-makers, even when beleaguered by things like rampant piracy and economic recessions, can still produce movies that instill excitement and inspiration in their audiences.

RATING: 8.5

Note: for its' US theatrical release, both parts of Red Cliff were paired together and edited down to 148 minutes. More information about that version, as well as the US Blu-Ray, can be found here. The movie was also put out in the US on DVD and Blu-Ray in a set that contains both films in their original length.