Red Cliff 2 is Simply the second half of an almost five-hour movie rather than a self-contained pic in its own right, John Woo’s costume actioner delivers in spades for audiences left hungry for more by last summer’s first segment – Red Cliff part 1 [review]. It’s hard for me to decide whether Red Cliff 2 is an improvement over its predecessor, or whether it just fulfilled the promises in part one. For those familiar with the classic but have not watched the first installment, the John Woo doesn’t waste time in bringing you up to speed with an excellent summary. After the recap of the events of part one, we are thrown immediately back into the thick of the action.
I will not hesitate to tell my Caucasian friends why they should watch this movie. Afterall, the battle of the Red Cliff is equivalent to the battle of Gettysburg in that it changed the whole texture of a collapsing empire and the emergence of three kingdoms in an exciting era of Chinese history. Red Cliff 2 follows prime minister Cao Cao’s first campaign to annex East Wu by an allied defensive led by Wu viceroy Zhou Yu (Tony Leung) and Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro), the military strategist who serves Cao’s opponent Liu Bei. With Cao’s 2,000 strong fleet poised to sail down the Yangtze for a second offensive, Zhuge uses his knowledge of weather changes to help Zhou decimate Cao’s fleet in one blast. Even at 141 minutes, the film never feels ponderous or weighed down by self-importance.
Though the first film’s cliffhanger ending had an eve-of-battle feel, Red Cliff 2 actually spends well over an hour detailing each side’s plans. The climactic battle lives up to popular expectations of epic filmmaking, with over 30 minutes of sophisticated military maneuvers, special effects and human drama in one continuous movement. Somehow, Red Cliff 2 ended with a whimper unfortunately, which is a pity. The build up is excellent par none, prepping the audience for the big showdown. Those who had lamented the lack of big battle sequences in the first film, well, you can continue to lament as this one only had ONE which takes up almost the last hour.
I’ve imagined what would have happened if Chow Yun Fat hadn’t dropped out of the film during pre-production. If Chow Yun Fat hadn’t thought that doing Dragon Ball *GROAN* is a better career choice, he would’ve been playing Zhou Yu, and Tony Leung would’ve been playing Zhuge Liang, and that might have been a better fit. Red Cliff 2 gains dramatic weight as Cao Cao steps up as a dominant force and the film’s most subtly drawn character. To say that John Woo has delivered on the promise of Red Cliff part one is to understate the obvious. This second half is a master class in ratcheting up tension, before unleashing a furious fireball of a finale. A great wrap up to an epic motion picture.