Posted by: Dr P | July 5, 2009

Red Cliff

I always enjoy John Woo films. However after this epic I’m upgrading him to a Ric Flair-esque John Woooooooooooooo! What a corker of a cinematic treat this was.

With Big G back in harness we set out for the flicks in the Meehan mobile; minutes into the journey G set the tone for the night. “White Flag” was playing on the radio and I sighed and said I really don’t like Dido. Quick as a flash the big fella said “well, I don’t trust anyone who’s only 1 letter away from a sex toy”. “Or extinct”, I retorted. After much 14 yr old sniggering had taken place, it struck me that G must have been thinking about this a lot … after all, how many other artistes are just one letter away from said objects? If you can think of any, please do post them at the end of the review.

We diverted into Asda for some drinks and pick’n’mix, on the grounds it would be about 3 quid there as opposed to 12 quid at “robbing bleeders inc.” in the cinema. Having collected said items, we then passed the magazine section on the way out and noted some quite stupendous titles.

“Oooh look, they’ve got ‘Sew’ magazine”

“Hey, it’s cross-stitch weekly … with a free pattern!”

“Asiana” *dramatic pause* “I’m not sure that’s exactly what you think it might be, Gareth” *more sniggering* I’m surprised we didn’t get thrown out.

Upon arriving at UCG, we then had to try and decide how to smuggle our booty into the cinema; this caused more merriment as we speculated just how much you could actually take in without them noticing.

“You could wear a saucepan on your head, set at a jaunty angle”
“What about a llama .. not hang on, an alpaca”
“A fridge”
“DILDO!” *snort*

We were stuck in the queue behind a distinctly dubious looking family; it always happens when you’re on the minutes.

“Hi, we were here last night and I left something behind”

(at which point G nudges me and whispers “dildo” again, causing me to snort far too loudly)
They then spend 10 minutes trying to locate a lost wallet. That achieved, they then try and use their cinema cards, only for the youngest family member not to have any ID on him proving he was under 16 (he actually looked about 12). This caused another hoohah and some commenting from G that had me snorting again.

We were so giggly at this point that when I finally arrived at the desk to get the tickets I had a complete blank and almost asked for “Heathcliff”. Ahem.

Final hilarity pre-movie ensues as we head down the corridor to our screen, laden down with our illicit purchases.
“Hang on, Gareth, I just need to go to the toilet”
“Would you like me to hold anything for you?”

*explosive sniggering*

OK, onto the movie. If you’ve seen Hero or House of Flying Daggers you’ll love this. It’s Chinese war on an epic scale. Slightly less of the running up trees mystical elements thankfully, but all the staples of classic Chinese movies are crammed into the mammoth 148 minute running time (pared down for European viewers).

The premise is simple. Set in 208 AD, the evil overlord general Cao Cao (pronounced Chow Chow, which predictably made me think that a giant panda was taking over China) has led his army across Northern China and subjugated a number of uprisings. However, this has made him power mad and he now seeks to usurp the peaceful Southern lands. With a puppet ruler in place (not an actual puppet, that would be completely silly), he finds it easy to convince him that they should take on the two main Southern factions. And so the scene is set.

An army of nearly 800,000 men sets out for the South. Whilst many travel on foot or horse, there’s also a massive armada sailing down the Yangtse. This allows Wooooooooooo! to pan out and show some fantastic overhead views of tens of thousands of boats in formation. It’s a stunning visual.

We now switch our attention to the South. The first target of the attacks is Liu Bei, a kind general and beloved leader of his clan. Defeated in an initial battle and forced to flee south with a ragtag array of peasants and the remnants of his army, Liu knows his only hope is to unite his forces with the great general Sun Quan. Liu Bei’s chief advisor Zhuge Liang is despatched to make overtures to the general and form an alliance.

In typical Chinese movie style, this allows for some quite ridiculous scenes where we get to see Sun Quan’s army practising different tactical formations, but then suddenly pausing at the sound of a flute being played by a scraggly child!!! With a look of distaste, Sun Quan then marches over to the child (at this point I’m almost on my feet shouting “chop his head off”) and when he whips out his knife, you fear the worst. However, Sun then proves that he must be a good guy by taking the flute and carefully chiselling out the holes to make it sound … well, exactly the same actually, but the thought was there.

As if that wasn’t silly enough, the emissary and the general then bond over a musical interlude involving some duetting on guitar-like instruments. They don’t quite play “duelling banjos” but my god, that would have been funny. Perhaps it’s in the outtakes. Anyway, this convinces the great general that perhaps Liu Bei and his men are worthy of aid, and so they form an alliance – based on strength of arms, thankfully, as opposed to musical prowess.

There’s a corking additional bit here where we are introduced to a faction within Sun’s army led by a rogue pirate who is basically a great hairy brute who needs a good comb if you ask me.

Upon hearing of his enemies’ uniting, Cao Cao eats more bamboo and speeds up his attack plans. He despatches a ground cavalry unit to sneak attack the allies. Fortunately, the generals have anticipated this plan and lure the attackers into a trap. This allows some ingenious tactical play where the defending foot soldiers continually change formations to trap various horsemen in tight corners and massacre them. It’s a stunning scene, and quite ingenious. It really does make you think that if China ever turns really nasty, we’re all up the creek, whether they nuke us, banjo us to death or just whack us with bamboo sticks.

The allies retreat to Sun’s massive fortress at Red Cliff (hence the title), where they set up their defences. Knowing that the attack will come from the massive navy, they start to plot how to defeat it.

The second half of the movie is basically an extended battle scene like nothing you’ve seen before. It’s like “Return of the King’s” superb siege of Minas Tirith set on water. Plus there’s some quite horrific land fighting too, which remarkably includes each of the central characters getting a cameo moment where they take on 10 or 20 opponents single handedly and give them a right good kicking. Well, all except for the beardy pirate, who decides that he doesn’t want to take on the soldiers but instead chooses to shoulder tackle a horse in full flight. It’s completely barmy, and very very very funny. Particularly when you have Big G suggesting they all fight with dildos.

An absolute corker of a war movie, and apparently based on genuine events in Chinese history. If you like your Eastern cinema, go see this. If you like a good fighting flick, go see this. If you want to see people rugby tackling horses and making holes in flutes with battle weapons, go see this!!



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