© Magnolia Pictures

Director: John Woo

Year : 2008(Part 1), 2009 (Part 2)

Genre: War | Action | Adventure

Official Website:

PART 1 –
PART 2 –


Verdict: Recommended

Red Cliff is an epic war film set in 208-209AD based on the Battle of Red Cliff or also known as the Battle of Chibi, that eventually led to the end of the Han Dynasty. This was then followed by the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese History.

Red Cliff was released as two parts in consecutive years of 2008 & 20009 combined running up to 5 hours, and alternatively also as a single 2 and half hour condensed form. I watched the former, back to back and I must commend on the way the plot flowed seamlessly without any disconnect.


Chancellor Cao Cao(Fengyi Zhang) gives wings to his ambitions by leading the imperial army into a battle against warlords Sun Quan(Chen Chang) and Liu Bei(Yong You) by declaring them as rebels. Cao’s army swiftly conquer the Jing Province, and begin killing civilians with no remorse.  After some dramatic fight sequences in defending Liu’s family from the invaders, Zhao Yun(Jun Hu), military general for Liu Bei, manages to save Liu’s infant son.
This sets up the base for Zhuge Liang(Takeshi Kaneshiro) , chief strategist and adviser to Liu Bei, to begin an alliance between the southern warlords, as only means to stop Cao Cao and his men, or at least delay them until the civilians are moved to safety. After initial hesitation, Sun Quan agrees to the alliance following a hunting session with his viceroy Zhou Yu(Tony Leung), and a plan is out in place to resist Cao’s advance.


© Magnolia Pictures

Part 1 ends with the alliance army able to defeat Cao’s vanguards in a brilliant Bagua formation. This however, has little effect on Cao, who looks to continue his assault both on land and water, with the help of defectors, Cai Mao and Zhang Yun, from Jing Province. Sun’s sister, Sun Shangxiang(Wei Zhao), infiltrates Cao’s army in a guise, and keeps updating Zhuge about Cao’s plans through messenger pigeons.But will the presence of Sun’s sister be the key?


© Magnolia Pictures

Part 2:

Sun Shangxiang has infiltrated Cao’s army, and keeps notes and plans of the Cao’s camp. A cholera breakdown in Cao’s camp leaves a lot of is me dead. However, Cao intelligently sees an opportunity in this and sends across the rotting corpses to wards the allies. This leads to several of the allied soldiers and civilians dying and eventually leads to break up of the alliance with Liu Bei quitting.


© Magnolia Pictures

Zhuge Liang, decides to stay back with Zhou Yu, and two of the best battle minds coming together to fight against an army ten times stronger. Zhou Yu’s brilliant mind, and  Zhuge Liang’s understanding of the nature is pivotal to the final offense with fire on Cao’s army.


© Magnolia Pictures

This is a classic John Woo film. You have his trademark shots – flying doves, instead guns in two hands, we have swords in both the hands. The fight sequence are well orchestrated and art direction is deservedly, an award winner. After a long hiatus, John Woo’s returns to do a Chinese film with all grandiose. With mediocre dialogues,  sometimes too long fight sequences, Red Cliff stops at being a good film. It could have been better.


© Magnolia Pictures

The Good: John Woo’s direction, great art direction, and some great fight sequences. A stellar cast including some of the most prominent faces in Asian industry helps. Fengyi Zhang as Cao, and Takeshi Kaneshiro are a treat to watch, especially Cao.

The Not So Good: Dialogues lack punch and some key analogies are too clichéd.
Also I find some scenes to be given more than necessary thought. The reflection across Sun Quan’s face when he removes the sword from its case was very nice, but then repeating it again with emphasis when the sword is put back, just seems like audience are being told – Hey look I just did a neat trick! You missed it? I’ll do it again!
Finally, Tony Leung, a great actor, just did not work for me in his role as Zhou Yu. He is poignant, thinking, but his personality just does not come across right.

The Verdict: Recommended