"Red Cliff" Movie Trailer Review

11/22/2009 Posted by Admin

By our guest blogger, Marguerita Merrick

The trailer for “Red Cliff” could have represented this monumental film in a variety of ways. The challenge is how to capture the substance of the film--which recounts the Battle of Red Cliffs of the year 208, the disintegration of the Han Dynasty and the failure of legendary warlord, Cao Cao, to consolidate power in China--in two minutes. The trailer actually succeeds at this. Rather than being a series of battle clips and heroic acts, what the trailer chooses to emphasize is that there are human beings behind epic and transformative events such as this one, and that it's individuals and private passions that crumble dynasties.

The narration is affecting, distilling the matter into a few words:  “In a country shaken by years of civil war, a powerful warlord’s quest for domination threatens all who stand in his way. Now, the destiny of an empire and the fate of millions will depend on the fight of a few.”

It is the poignancy and almost lyrical aspect of this battle that is the focal point of the trailer--we see emotional faces and sweeping images of war boats in the night, lanterns, seas of soldiers in formation. There are moments in the middle of the trailer with no sound, where we just see faces, exchanges and the humanness of this war.  The pairing of personal drama with such an epic event is striking--one sometimes forgets that a few people are at the core of great movements.

“Red Cliff” also gives a more nuanced rendering to Cao Cao, who is in other accounts depicted as merely ruthless, and the trailer does show us that this film is multilayered--we see there are complex circumstances in China preceding the fall of the Han Dynasty. We don’t get a sense from the trailer of Cao Cao’s illustrious character, but that would be hard to achieve in two minutes--he apparently was cruel and remorseless but also a brilliant military leader.  A man full of contradictions.

He was a skilled poet who practiced martial arts and famously introduced agriculture and education into war-torn areas of China. What we also don't see in the trailer is that this is the moment in history when the question of genuine authority is up in the air. Emperor Xian doesn’t have it--Cao Cao is trying to reclaim China from warring factions in the South.  So, where does real authority lie?  What traits enable it? What we see in the trailer is the drama of the battle.

I have a new respect for John Woo or any director who can convey all of this complexity in battle sequences.  John Woo, one of today's most noted directors, is known for his effectively choreographed action sequences--he is also the creator of “Hard Boiled,” “Broken Arrow,” “Hard Target” and “Mission: Impossible 2.”

“Red Cliff” stars Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen, Hu Jun, Lin Chi-ling and Zhao Wei.  It opened in limited release on November 20, 2009.

View the trailer for "Red Cliff" below. Thoughts?

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