CATEGORIES Reviews
Red CliffBy the time the largely forgettable Philip K. Dick adaptation 'Paycheck' debuted in 2003, Chinese filmmaker John Woo had completed a decade-long transition into the same Hollywood blockbuster realm occupied by guys like Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer.

But that was also the point at which the director of 'Broken Arrow,' 'Hard Target,' 'Face/Off' and 'Mission Impossible II' decided to take a little break from Hollywood action films.

Woo is back in more ways than one with 'Red Cliff,' an $80 million war epic shot in China and already a hit overseas. Released in the U.S. by Magnolia Pictures, moviegoers Stateside will have a chance to see it this weekend. Here's what some of the critics are saying ... Red CliffBy the time the largely forgettable Philip K. Dick adaptation 'Paycheck' debuted in 2003, Chinese filmmaker John Woo had completed a decade-long transition into the same Hollywood blockbuster realm occupied by guys like Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer.

But that was also the point at which the director of 'Broken Arrow,' 'Hard Target,' 'Face/Off' and 'Mission Impossible II' decided to take a little break from Hollywood action films.

Woo is back in more ways than one with 'Red Cliff,' an $80 million war epic shot in China and already a hit overseas. Released in the U.S. by Magnolia Pictures, moviegoers Stateside will have a chance to see it this weekend. Here's what some of the critics are saying ...

The New York Times: "After 'Hard Boiled' in 1992, Mr. Woo became a Hollywood director himself, making fast-moving but largely forgettable movies. (The best was probably the nukes-on-a-train story 'Broken Arrow. After 'Paycheck' in 2003, he went dark as far as feature films were concerned. Now he's back, in two senses: back making movies in Asia and back in theaters with 'Red Cliff,' a nearly two-and-a-half-hour historical epic set in the third century A.D. that reunites him with Tony Leung, one of the stars of 'Hard Boiled.' It would be nice to report that he's also back on top of his game, but 'Red Cliff, while handsome and intelligent and perfectly easy to sit through, never really approaches the visceral tug of Mr. Woo's Hong Kong hits."

Entertainment Weekly: "Flying arrows rain down like deadly needles. Soldiers wield their shields in formations worthy of a Busby Berkeley musical. A beautiful woman pours tea with intoxicating precision. There's plenty of vivid action to fill two and a half hours in John Woo's Chinese historical war epic 'Red Cliff,' a rewarding change of terrain and era for the inventive Hong Kong director. The spectacular battle scenes are the engorged heart of the delirious adventure. But Woo also gets maximum romantic value from Tony Leung as a war hero married to Chiling Lin as the tea-pouring beauty."

New York Magazine: "Back in China after nearly two decades making Hollywood movies, John Woo tries in the military epic 'Red Cliff' to bring off the kind of artsy martial arts (martial-artsy?) period picture that Zhang Yimou ('Hero,' 'House of Flying Daggers') does peerlessly. But he'll always be a vulgarian. His action is cluttered, his compositions have no texture, and he loves him some tacky slow motion. That said, all 148 minutes of 'Red Cliff' are very enjoyable. The scale is huge. The armada of warships might be obvious CGI, but there are thousands of real men onscreen assembling themselves into giant pincers and hacking and slashing away at one another. (Chinese extras work cheap.) Better yet, this is one of the few war films to focus on the art and science of battle-on stratagems, countermoves, counter-counter-moves, and on the game of getting inside one's enemy's head. As in chess, tactics and psychology are inextricable."

'Red Cliff' Trailer

'Red Cliff' showtimes and tickets


The Village Voice: "Woo returned to China-the Mainland-to make his latest film, but scale back he didn't. Conceived as a two-film epic with a combined running time of nearly five hours (reduced to a single two-and-a-half-hour version for extra-Asian consumption), Woo's 'Red Cliff' is the most expensive movie ever produced in the country, and also the biggest-a third-century battle royale, with phalanxes of horsemen and armadas of battleships stretching as far as the eye can see (and, thanks to the CGI paintbox, even farther). The source material is an 800,000-word historical novel, 'Romance of the Three Kingdoms,' written in the 14th century and as deeply embedded in Chinese folklore as Shakeseare's characters are in the West-rooted in fact, but transfigured over time into something more mythic. And although Woo also turned to the more historically accurate text 'Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms' for inspiration, watching 'Red Cliff' feels like being in the presence of gods who have momentarily deigned to walk upon the earth."

The AV Club: "Financed for $80 million, the most money ever allotted to a Chinese production, the immense period action epic 'Red Cliff' is John Woo's first film in the six years since 'Paycheck' ended-for the time being, anyway-his rocky sojourn in Hollywood. From the looks of it, the cultural exchange cut both ways: Woo's flair for slo-mo theatrics has become a common visual stamp for Hollywood actioners, while his longtime interest in Western themes found a natural home in America, even though the blockbuster conventions of movies like 'Mission: Impossible II' often eclipsed those themes. Bringing all his technical know-how back to his home country, Woo attempts an awkward marriage of East and West with 'Red Cliff,' a busy piece of spectacle that integrates scores of extras with the latest in digital figures and environments. The film is both traditional and modern: austere in its engagement with history, and insistent in its showy action beats."

The Hollywood Reporter: As the first film to re-create the 208 A.D. Battle of Chibi, the most famous military feat in Chinese history, John Woo's 'Red Cliff' is a Pan-Asian project with the word "monumental" written all over it. The 140-minute first half that opened across major Asian territories is only a prelude that provides the beams and columns for the narrative framework, but with a few decisive and spot-on action spectacles, it sufficiently kindles expectations for the climactic clash in Part 2. The Western version will be a shorter, condensed one.

Variety: "One of the most ballyhooed Asian productions in recent history, and the most expensive Chinese-language picture ever, John Woo's costume actioner 'Red Cliff' scales the heights. First seg of the two-part, $80 million historical epic -- with 'The Battle of Red Cliff' to follow in late January -- balances character, grit, spectacle and visceral action in a meaty, dramatically satisfying pie that delivers on the hype and will surprise many who felt the Hong Kong helmer progressively lost his mojo during his long years stateside. Pic may, however, disappoint those looking for simply a costume retread of his kinetic, '80s H.K. classics."

The Wall Street Journal: "Set in the twilight of the Han Dynasty, 'Red Cliff' lends new meaning to the notion of Baby on Board when a fearless swordsman plunges into battle with an infant strapped on his back. This action spectacular, directed by the masterful John Woo, also lends new meaning to the notion of epic. As the most expensive movie ever made in China, it's certainly immense and, even in the truncated (and sometimes slightly frayed) form shown here, quite long -- 2½ hours, rather than five hours for the two-part version shown to Asian audiences. Yet the immensity encompasses such variety, subtlety and intimacy that you may find yourself yearning for more."