Asian action auteur-turned-Hollywood hired hand John Woo hasn’t directed a film since 2003 thriller Paycheck. And Woo hasn’t been home to China to make a movie since 1992. Back behind the camera, Woo’s first Chinese film in almost 20 years is a triumphant return to his roots.
Based on Guanzhong Luo’s nationally popular Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the film is an account of a conflict that took place in the year 208AD and changed the course of China’s history forever. In the final days of the Han Dynasty, scheming Prime Minister Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang) connives to get his fickle young Emperor’s approval to invade the western and southern kingdoms. But the tyrant’s grand scheme is halted at the titular riverside fortress, where the southern warlord Sun Quan (Chen Chang) and his viceroy Zhou Yu (Tony Leung) have joined forces with the western warlord Liu Bei and his military strategist Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro).
Aside from a brief scene setting introduction, the entire running time is devoted to the battle of Red Cliff. But the bloody mayhem doesn’t outstay its welcome thanks to the clever cut-and-thrust reversals of fortune as the leaders on both sides of the conflict deploy various cunning strategies. In fact, the film would benefit from being released as it was in China, in two parts that featured more character and plot development than in this abridged Western version.
General release from Fri 12 Jun.