Sunday, July 19, 2009

Red Cliff 赤壁 (Part 1 and 2)

Free Image Hosting

Three Kingdoms is as much a roar of a classic as it is a factual part in China's history. While the west pore over the great Homer's Odyssey, the east have the Three Kingdoms to boast of.
The period of the Three Kingdoms (before, during and after) have always been an important mark in China's history; where the kingdom was separated into three parts (Northland, West and the Southland) and was under the warring stage at the point.

The most significant event in the history; a turning point is the battle at the Red Cliff where the three forces meet at war for a full-force and amazing battle of the century, and this is particularly the event which is much talked about and impressed all of the fans of this favorite Chinese historical classic.
Free Image Hosting

It is this excitement which captivated those who have decided to capture it on film; re-enacting and bringing to life the huge battle which saw the beginning of the three kingdoms.

Director John Woo is involved in this mega blockbuster which was estimated to boast of a huge budget of over USD$80 billion; making it the most expensive Asian film ever to market.
However, it was definitely an epic of a movie and after watching it, I highly recommend it to the fans who would love to get a bit of action after reading it on sheafs of paper all these years.
A word of caution though; the movie is not entirely based on the historical facts and there are major fictional events included in the storyline.

Part 1 started off with the battle between Cao Cao's troops and Liu Bei's army at Xinye; where Liu Bei suffered a great loss due to his kindness towards the Xinye's folks whom he protected. Due to his compassion, he lost most of his soldiers in the battle. We see Zhang Fei, Guan Yu and Zhao Zilong (zi: Zhao Yun) fighting with their utmost might while Liu Bei continuously reminds his warriors to ensure the safety of the refugees.
His Chief Strategist, Zhu-Ge Liang was seen frowning and had to order for the retreat of the army due to them being outnumbered by the enemy. Zilong only managed to rescue Liu Bei's son while both his wives perished in the war.

This defeat caused a great loss of men in Liu Bei's army and at his wit's end, Zhu-Ge Liang (zi: Kong Ming) proposed to form an alliance with the Southland; Sun Quan to wedge the war against the traitor Cao Cao. He set forth on his diplomatic mission to the South and was led by Lu Su, Sun Quan's advisor to Sun Quan himself.
However, Sun Quan was hesitant due to the split voices of his court ministers and Lu Su recommended Zhu-ge Liang to seek the support of Zhou Yu; the Grand Viceroy of the kingdom. Zhu-ge did so, and through his chance encounter, Zhou Yu gave his answer through his music.
Sun Quan was then convinced by Zhou Yu and his sister, Sun Shangxiang during the tiger hunt; following the arrival of the letter from Cao Cao, for him to surrender.

Sun Quan then decided to wedge the war, against all protests as he refused to surrender to Cao Cao. His message was sent clear through his return of a white piece of paper to Cao Cao who then killed Sun Quan's messenger in a fit of rage.
Free Image Hosting
Cao Cao enlisted the newcomers from Jingzhou; Cai Mao and Zhang Yun (both from the Southland, and were rebels) to lead his naval army in the upcoming war against the two kingdoms.

After the formation of the alliance, Liu Bei and Sun Quan soon called for a meeting to discuss on their strategies to take on Cao Cao's troops. Sun Shangxiang led the enemy by a light cavalry unit to the actual battle site; on which Zhu-Ge Liang has arranged his Eight-Trigrams Formation. Cao's troop fell into the trap and suffered a great setback from this battle where the alliance's army emerged victorious.

However, Cao Cao was not discouraged by the loss and was determined to take on Red Cliff. While his troop celebrates through a grand banquet, Zhu-Ge Liang and Zhou Yu hatches up a plan for the upcoming war.
The film ends with Zhu-Ge Liang sending off a pigeon to Cao Cao's site followed by Zhou Yu setting fire to the miniature ships on the make-up model of the war site.

Part 2:
The sequel begins with the pigeon (sent by Zhu-Ge Liang in Part 1) landing in the hands of Sun Shangxiang who was disguised as part of Cao Cao's troop and was the appointed spy for the kingdom. She sent the information she obtained on the troop to Zhu-Ge Liang; a communication which the duo maintained through the white pigeon.
Cao Cao's army was threatened by an outbreak of typhoid; which killed a vast number of his soldiers and infected many of those who was in contact with the infected ones. Zhou Yu and Zhu-Ge Liang got the wind up of this through Sun Shangxiang's message, and despite the persuasion of the commanders (likes of Guan Yu, Zhang Fei) to launch attack at this desirable time when the enemy is weak, Zhou Yu refused to move forward as he deems this as an unfair play at war.

Anxious over the high number of casualties, Cao Cao then decides to send the dead bodies of the affected soldiers (who were supposed to be cremated to end the spread of the disease) to the alliance army's camp, despite the protest of his advisor.
Zhu-Ge Liang realized the intention of Cao Cao after testing on one of the corpses and warned all the soldiers to stay away from the dead bodies. Liu Bei decides to leave the alliance at this moment; claiming to protect his own people from the deadly disease and also the losing end of their outnumbered army.Zhu-Ge Liang stayed on to help to nurse the sick at Sun Quan's camp. Xiao Qiao, Zhou Yu's wife was upset to see the great loss of soldiers over the outbreak and starts eavesdropping on the strategist's discussion.

Cao Cao's army is also suffering from seasickness due to the new environment to fight battle on the ship and the naval commanders-in-chief, Cai Mao and Zhang Yun proposed to interlock the vessels together to minimize the movement of the ships and lessen the possibility of the seasickness. At the same time, Zhu-Ge Liang and Zhou Yu worked on a plan to obtain 100,000 arrows and to eliminate Cai Mao and Zhang Yun, their biggest threats as the duo are familiar with the naval base.
The two strategists appointed each other to the task and agreed that whoever fails shall succumb to military judgement.
Zhou Yu provided 10 days to Zhu-Ge Liang to obtain the 100,000 arrows to which the latter asked for 3 days only.
At the same time, Cao Cao sends Jiang Gan to persuade Zhou Yu to surrender but Zhou Yu tricks him instead into believing that Cai Mao and Zhang Yun are actually in the plot with the Eastern Wu alliance and are set to betray Cao Cao.

Free Image Hosting
Simultaneously, Zhu-Ge Liang's brilliant plan in setting out with a small number of ships filled with scarecrows made of straw in the thick fog to arouse the suspicion of the enemy who shot arrows to scare them away, came back victorious and deepened the suspicion of Cao Cao towards the two naval commanders who was ordered to be put to death at once when he saw the floating boat from the Eastern Wu filled with straw-made scarecrows. His advisor reminded him of their naval capabilities; and Cao Cao realized he has been tricked.
Free Image Hosting

Sun Shangxiang left Cao Cao's camp to rejoin her own army; and shared the map of Cao Cao's vanguard and his vessels' arrangement.
Her bit of information on the vessels which were tied together gave Zhou Yu the idea to set fire and burn all the vessels.
However, the disadvantage is the direction of the wind; which could cause their plan to backfire. Zhu-Ge Liang then predicted that the wind should change to the South-East wind which is to their advantage sometime in the midnight to the early hours of the morning.
The only setback is whether they can put off Cao Cao's pursuit until then.

Xiao Qiao then set out on her own to Cao Cao's army; leaving a letter for Zhou Yu that she is determined to do her bit for her people. She sets out alone; with the intention to cause the delay in Cao Cao's attack; using the weapon of her beauty and the fact that Cao Cao is enthralled by her charms.

Zhou Yu was worried over his wife and was comforted by his army; who celebrated the festival of the Winter Solstice and vowed victory in the upcoming war.
He rejected Sun Quan's proposal to change their strategy in order to rescue his wife from Cao Cao's hand and proceeded to wait calmly for the great battle.

Free Image Hosting
Meanwhile, Xiao Qiao was greeted warmly by Cao Cao who was only too glad to see her, and she mesmerized him by her soft and gentle ways. She held him back by her tea-ceremony when he was getting ready for the battle to buy more time for the change of the wind.
The army waited for the whole night for the change of the wind; and when it finally changed, Zhou Yu commanded his naval army to sail at full speed towards Cao Cao's vessels and set them on fire.
The South-East wind aided in the rapid spread of the fire; which set all the interlocked vessels in a mass fire at once and killed the soldiers who were frantically trying to separate the vessels.
As the fire spreads to the vanguard, Zhu-Ge Liang and Zhou Yu has the armies from Liu Bei, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei and Zilong on the stand to attack them from the different gates.
It turned out that Liu Bei's departure during the disease outbreak was a deliberate play staged by Zhou Yu to boost the confidence of Cao Cao.

Gan Xing led the troops towards the vanguard and died while trying to break the barricade of Cao Cao's vanguard to allow Zhou Yu's troops to join Liu Bei's army. Cao Cao suffered a great loss; and met Zhou Yu at each other's sword's tip while Cao Cao commanded Xiahou Jun to push Xiao Qiao off. Zilong managed to interrupt and killed Xiahou Jun while Zhou Yu let Cao Cao off.

The movie ended with Zhou Yu and Zhu-Ge Liang parting ways; that they shall continue to serve their masters.

My opinion:
I loved the beautiful choreography of the war and the cinematography effects which made the movie so enjoyable and not in the least boring.
It was a masterpiece; and it was the battle of Red Cliff to life!

A few glaring things shown in the movie to point out though; Part 2 was definitely way out of the historical facts.
1. Sun Shangxiang was never the spy in Cao Cao's army and communicating with Zhu-Ge Liang via a pigeon.

2. Xiao Qiao definitely did not present herself to Cao Cao's army alone; and never did play a role in halting the battle to win the time for the change of the wind.

3. The idea of setting fire to the interlocked vessels was provided by Pang Tong; also known as the Young Phoenix and is the equal of Zhu-Ge Liang. Sadly, they omitted such a brilliant character in this movie; a case of over-budget perhaps?

4. Gan Xing is actually the character Gan Ning in the history; Gan Xing was actually the father of Gan Ning and ceased to exist during the period of Red Cliff.

5. Cao Cao's action of sending the infected dead bodies to the enemy's camp is questionable; as some claimed it did not exist in history/novel.

6. Cao Cao is interested in both Da Qiao and Xiao Qiao; but in the movie, he is shown to only harbor lust/love feelings for Xiao Qiao. Da Qiao is supposed to be Sun Quan's wife.

7. Huang Gai should be featured in the film as he was the one who was sent in disguise by the Eastern Wu alliance following their ploy in banishing him; and he was to go to Cao Cao to propose the idea of interlocking the vessels (not Cai Mao and Zhang Yun as shown in the movie).

There are too many misalignment from the actual storyline in the movie that it is disappointing.
True, the whole film was done in a magnificent way but I feel they should have toed the line as this is not just a famous epic we are looking at, but it is also history!
Furthermore, this is an outrageous change to the facts or even the novel especially to the hardcore fans of the Three Kingdoms saga.

I was told that they probably did so to justify harmony and eliminate the element of discrimination since this is an international film; which is why they used a Japanese for the role of Gan Xing and then they changed the part to Sun Shangxiang and Xiao Qiao's contribution to the success of the war for fear of feminist's attack.

Oh well, I think this is a bit absurd because it IS history and history has shown us that women were discriminated all this while; there is no denying that. Whether we like it or not, women were never honored and to have women given an opportunity to do such a role is impossible back then!

The casting was not too bad either; and in a way I am kind of glad that Tony Leung did not take on the role of Zhu-Ge Liang because he did a great job in playing Zhou Yu!
Free Image Hosting
Free Image Hosting

Furthermore, Takeshi Kaneshiro is definitely a much better Zhu-Ge Liang; so suave, calm and collected and just the Zhu-Ge Liang one would definitely have in mind when they read the book =)

There are a few characters whom they should have changed; it is not for the bad performance, rather their appearance just does not fit the description/image of the actual character.

1.Cao Cao, played by Zhang Fengyi, just seemed too mild-looking to play the conniving and smart Prime Minister told in history. The initial casting of Ken Watanabe for this role was foiled due to his nationality as a Japanese and had fans complaining that Cao Cao is a notable historical figure in the Chinese history and should be played by a Japanese.
I personally feel that even Ken Watanabe may not be able to bring out the true character of Cao Cao.

2. Guan Yu by Ba Shen Ba Bu is also not the right; as this actor looks too mild and too kind to play the courageous and loyal warlord.

3. Zhao Zilong/Zhao Yun by Jia Hongwei is not a bad choice to me; but some claimed that he is too plump and mature for the young warlord in the book.

4. Zhang Fei was played to life by Zhan Jinsheng! The only thing is the height of the actor; I remembered that Zhang Fei is at a towering height :)

5. Xiao Qiao, played by newcomer Lin Chi-Ling was said to be too old as the actual girl in history is only in her early twenties compared to the 30-something actress.
I personally feel Lin Chi-Ling has that exotic and demure oriental style to play Xiao Qiao and she does not look her age at all, so people, give her a break!

Favorite Character/Cast
1. Zhu-Ge Liang of course!! He is already my favorite character in the book all the way and Takeshi Kaneshiro is also one of my favorite actor!
Takeshi just have the right stature and looks for this role; just perfect!!
Free Image Hosting

2. Zhou Yu is another admirable character, and I particularly like Tony Leung who has that determined and wise look on his face. Too bad Tony is a great deal older than the young warlord; but setting aside the age, I think Tony did a notable performance in playing Zhou Yu!
Free Image Hosting

3. Zhang Fei by Zhan JinSheng; need I say more?

4. Xiao Qiao by Lin Chi-Ling
Demure and lovely!
Free Image Hosting

5. Sun Shangxiang by Zhao Wei
As usual, Zhao Wei has that boyish, fearless and calm character to play this rebellious and brave young princess. Zhao Wei is also my favorite actress :)
Free Image Hosting

Favorite Scenes
1. Zhu-Ge Liang meets Zhou Yu; and commented on the outdated Goose formation of Gan Xing.

2. Zhang Fei requests for Zhu-Ge Liang's help to bring support in the battle at Xinye and was surprised to see Zhu-Ge Liang returning alone again

3. Zhou Yu and Zhu-Ge Liang's music session

4. Zhu-Ge Liang's arrow acquisition in the fog (it is also my FAVORITE in the book!) Smart smart move of the smart man!

5. All the battle scenes; awesome choreography

6. The Eight Trigrams formation; amazing!

7. The fire battle in part 2

8. Zhu-Ge Liang was offering to help the horse give birth and Zhou Yu turned to him and said, "You are also knowledgeable in this?"

9. All the scenes with Zhu-Ge Liang in it

10. All the scenes with Zhu-Ge Liang AND Zhou Yu

Interesting Part
1. Is it me or did anyone else find Zhang Zhen (who played Sun Quan) looks like Daniel Wu???
Free Image Hosting

2. How did Xiao Qiao go to Cao Cao's army and is unhurt? Cao Cao claims to dream of her day and night and did not even touch her when she is there alone?
Furthermore, when they are attacked and suffered a great loss, they did not link it to Xiao Qiao immediately???

3. Sun Shangxiang spied on the army for so long and sent pigeons frequently and nobody realized it? When she was trying to escape, how come it is so easy when Cao Cao's army outnumbered her?

4. Part 1 and Part 2 were filmed at the same time; and they decided to release the first part for character development and also, they could not finish editing in time to release both!

Anyway, regardless of all the glitches mentioned, I still find this an enjoyable movie and definitely one to watch for all hardcore fans.
It is great to see the action; and for those who are not avid readers/fans of this epic, go watch it for the effects and you will find yourself interested in the facts and fiction of the story!
It has definitely made it to my favorite movies list; and I liked both parts equally!

Disclaimer: Images are taken from web and only for illustration purpose and does not belong to me.

No comments: