Red Cliff

Year: 2009
Studio: Beijing Film Studio
Director: John Woo
Producer: John Woo
Writer: John Woo
Cast: Tony Leung

Way back in the late nineties when his action films were among the most prized in Hollywood, John Woo used to say he really wanted to do a musical.

He did the overcooked Mission: Impossible 2 and the soulless Paycheck and seemed to disappear, not just his dreams of musicals but his Hollywood career flushed away.

So it's both heartening to see him make a film he obviously found so operatic and tedious that it's something we've seen so many times before.

It's another Asian history epic war story, telling the tale of two dynasty-era warlords who teamed up to fight back against an evil empire sweeping China using the technology of the day like crossbows, wooden ships and catapults. Just like shots of enormous armies crashing together on the battlefields got so boring about five years ago, now the clichéd shot of the sky filled with the black shadow of millions of arrows is being similarly overused, and it's just of many Woo falls back on.

Epic in both length and scope, the film is really only comfortable with the battle scenes and bloodletting (and the body count leaves those of the 80s-era action movies for...er, dead), the drama and 'downtime' a little flaky. But if it's spectacle and pizzazz you're after, look no further.

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