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Red Cliff 2 continues straight from where part 1 ended (Check the post on that one first). After a quick summary of what happened in the first part its more of the same elements that were present in the first movie: The over the top military tactics, Zhuge Liang and Zhou Ju competing, slapstick humour and of course more action.

Red Cliff 2 doesn’t go in its own direction but more builds on what was established in part 1. After the beginning montage has reminded what took place, the movie continues from where part  1 left off. Preparing for the big battle is the name of the game. I found I enjoyed the waiting towards the big battle more than the finale itself. The friendship between Zhuge Liang and Zhou Ju, the two tacticians and commanders of the good guys, was enjoying to follow this time around as well. The chemistry between the two works well and them competing was one of the funniest (if at points dumbest) parts in the film.

A Chinese orc

The action is once more the meat of the movie and the ending battle is, I have to admit, rather epic. It should be, seeing as how most of the film consists of preparing for that battle. The fire effects especially were rather slendid.  I found the ending battle at points very similar to Helm’s Deep from Lord of the Rings. Apart from the naval fleet the setting is rather similar: There’s a wall that the army opposing Cao Cao has to get past. They finally manage it when one of Zhou Ju’s underlings attacks the wall with three bombs sacrifing himself while doing so. Anyone else reminded of that orc at Helm’s Deep? Besides the wall and the bombs they aren’t all that similar though.

It’s hard to write about Red Cliff 1 and 2 as separate movies because they are really the same movie. Red Cliff is more a mini-series with two parts than a series of two films. In my opinion to be called a continuation Red Cliff 2 should work as a movie in itself. Star Wars IV-VI for example did that. All the movies in that trilogy would work even without seeing the rest of the films in it. Of course you get more out of it if you watch all of them in chronological order. Red Cliff 2 on the other hand wouldn’t really work without seeing part 1 first. Somehow I find this a problem. As a movie in itself Red Cliff two would fail I think, but when you look at it as a straight continuation to part 1 it works rather well. If you liked the first part you will most likely enjoy the second one as well. If you do want more Red Cliff, this movie gives an extra helping of it.

Zhou Ju practising

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I read a review about Red Cliff on Japan Cinema and decided to watch the movie myself. Mostly I got interested because in the trailer there was a lot of armies, formations and generally stuff that little boy’s tend to like and being the little boy by heart that I am also am interested in. Partly because of this I like the Total War-series of games as well. Red Cliff reminded me at points about that game. Mostly because of the formations. There’s a lot of talk on tactics in the movie, but I wouldn’t call it historically accurate in any way. The movie loosely follows the historical battle of Red Cliffs. Reading the Wikipedia article probably takes most of the suspension away so watch the movie before the article. I’ve watched hardly any chinese films so this is entirely new territory for me but do read on.

Herd them in tactic is use

The enemy in the movie is prime minister Cao Cao who attacks the province of Wu for political reasons. Warlords Liu Bei and Sun Quan unite against him and battles follow. The main characters of the movie though aren’t the warlords themselves but Liu Bei’s tactical advisor Zhuge Liang and Sun Quan’s brother Zhou Ju (hope I got it right). Zhuge Liang is tasked with getting Sun Quan to join the battle and befriends Zhou Ju while at it.

During the movie what I payed special attention to was the music, how the dialogue played out and also the humor. The music was a bit melodramatic in my opinion. There is a great scene in the movie though where a little kid is playing a flute and Zhou Ju’s army stops it’s drilling practice and listens to the flute while the commander himself goes and fixes couple of the blowholes on the flute so the music rings clear. Probably explains what I mean by melodramatic as well.

The two tacticians

The dialogue was interesting as well. Metaphors were used a lot and very rarely did any of the characters say what they wanted straight. So analyzing what the other guy is thinking played a big part in the movie. In one scene Zhuge Liang and Zhou Ju play music together and then later both know what the other one wants based on the music. That was one of my favorite scenes as well. Perhaps this has something to do with the Chinese way of doing business which differs from the western way in many ways. Also during the talks about tactics quessing what the enemy general Cao Cao is planning was essential. There is also a lot of humor in the movie that reminded me a lot about Jackie Chan. Sun Quan’s sister provided a lot of the comical relief with her tricks with acupuncture points, like stunning a horse so it fell down.

Of course the meat of the movie are the action scenes (as I understand is the case in John Woo’s movies). These mostly had a lot of grunts and then one of the heroes who beat them quite easily but rather entertainingly. The ordinary soldier’s don’t play a very big part in the movie. None of them have any dialogue lines of interest. Because of this the movie offers a rather small spectrum of war. On a sidenote the HBO series Rome succeeded as well as it did because of the grunt characters Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus. But I’m asking too much of Red Cliff now. In no way does it even try to offer a realistic approach to war. This is perhaps best showed in the movie’s second big battle scene in which the Liu Bei’s and Sun Quan’s forces form a sort of shield encampment with walkways in the middle. With use of dust they manage to cheat the enemy into entering it and the close the shields so the enemies are locked in. The tactic makes sense but I doubt it would’ve worked. Anyway at one point they let the heroes of the movie enter one of the walkways one at a time and beat a lot of the enemies grunts showing their moves at the same time. Picking a tactic based on how easy it is to show of the heroes’ special moves shows just how big a hold entertainment has over realism in this movie.

At least there's refugees

I had some qualms with the special effects in the movie. The big groups of soldiers look rather like digitally created groups of soldiers as does Cao Cao’s huge navy. They serve their purpose though. Also showing how little the movie has to do with actual war is how easy moving huge armies around appears. Cao Cao takes it very easy and doesn’t seem to worry about the biggest problem’s about armies 800’000 strong: getting them fed. According to the Wikipedia arcticle his army was closer to 200’000 which is still quite a lot compared to the opposing 50’000.

Still I was entertained, enjoyed the dialogue, found some of the jokes amusing and thought action scenes worked. I had a good time watching and enjoyed my chinese movie. Will probably get to know more of John Woo’s work I think based on this movie. Haven’t watched number two yet, so that’s next in line.

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