The latest film for this challenge is somewhat familiar terrain for me. However, it was purchased on recommendation from several people I know (who rightly said ‘oh you’ll love this’) and its a film I own (whole other challenge I’ve been working on) that qualifies for this challenge. Also while I am normally a big fan of cinema that challenges me and makes me think, sometimes I just want action/adventure and explosions. It’s a big Chinese historical epic, which has long been a favoured genre of mine. Though most of the other films of this type that I’ve seen have been more centred on martial arts and the exploits of a couple of particular characters and their skills against a historical backdrop. Red Cliff however, is more about big sweeping battles, with a bit of intrigue, alliances and political manoeuvring on the side.
This is a film directed by John Woo, so big exciting action set pieces are to be expected and he certainly doesn’t disappoint. Vast armies and complex military manoeuvres are played out on screen in extended and exhilarating sequences that are all the more impressive when you imagine that these are based on historical records so people really have fought using these techniques. With the exception of the last battle at Red Cliff there doesn’t appear to be much CGI used (because flaming death isn’t good for your actors) or if there is then it is subtly used. I’m particularly fond of the ‘borrowing the arrows’ scene.
Also roles for female characters as something other than love interests! Sun Shangxiang initially appears as Sun Quan’s enthusiastic little sister whose desire to join the campaign as a soldier is ridiculed by her brother and his generals but gets to prove her competency early on, leading a group of female warriors to act as a decoy drawing in the enemy army only to prove competent adversaries holding them off until the rest of the allied forces can drop on them. She spends a large part of the film disguised as a man, acting as a spy in Caocao’s stronghold, sending back valuable reconnaissance to Zhuge Liang. In fact, by the time she returns from Caocao’s camp Sun Quan’s outraged response to her actions is portrayed as ridiculous, followed as it is by his allies standing around looking awkward rather than supportive. As though they had long since accepted her skill and important role and are a bit embarrassed that he continues to fail to recognise it. Xiao Qiao on the other hand, as Zhou Yu’s young and innocent wife, is largely drawn as the love interest and although she does get held hostage (a move that the viewer is waiting for throughout the whole film given the brutal death of Lui Bei’s wife in the film’s opening battle) towards the end, she does get to take charge of her own destiny. Accompanying Zhou Yu on the campaign, solidifies her pacifist feelings as she realises what danger will befall their people if they loose. She sets out alone to attempt to convince Caocao that he has won and should accept the alliance’s surrender. Discovering that he is set upon having their humiliation she uses Caocao’s long-standing fondness for her to keep him distracted thus preventing him giving the order to start the battle until the wind has changed giving her husband and his allies the advantage they need. Unusually, Zhou Yu seems willing to trust his wife’s instincts and does not send soldiers to bring her back. When the battle is over, it appears that Zhou Yu has come to understand his wife’s pacifist view, seeing the destruction and loss of life he declares that there have been no victors here.