Hong Kong auteur John Woo hit commercial and artistic pay dirt in the US with Face/Off, his loopy Nicolas Cage/John Travolta neo-noir, but once he’d directed Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible II, was there anywhere left to go? Consider that his last Hollywood picture was called Paycheck and you’ll understand why the 63-year-old returned East to mount the two-film, five-hour Chinese-language epic he’s been dreaming of since he was a young boy, one that would re-enact the famous Battle of Red Cliff from Luo Guanzhong’s 14th-century literary masterpiece, Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Recut into a single movie for non-Asian markets, Red Cliff bears the scars of its compression: front-loaded expository narration in English and far too many title cards introducing the major players replace quiet, character-building moments, putting the focus squarely on the action. But what action!
Reuniting with his Hard Boiled star, Tony Leung, Woo works on a scale never before attempted, with militaristic precision.