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Movie Review

Red Cliff a.k.a. “The Battle of Red Cliff,” “Red Cliff: Part I,” “Chi bi,” “Chek bik,” “A Batalha de Red Cliff,” “A Batalha dos 3 Reinos,” “Krvavé pobrezí,” “La battaglia dei tre regni,” “Les 3 royaumes,” “O porfyros lofos,” “Punane kalju,” “Trzy królestwa,” “Битва у Красной скалы”

MPAA Rating: R for sequences of epic warfare.

Reviewed by: Michael Karounos

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens, Adults
Foreign Action Adventure War History Drama
2 hr. 26 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
November 18, 2009 (NYC—2 theaters)
November 25, 2009 (limited)
December 4, 2009 (expanded)
December 11, 2009 (expanded)
December 18, 2009 (wide)
DVD: March 23, 2010
Copyright, Magnolia Pictures click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Magnolia Pictures Copyright, Magnolia Pictures Copyright, Magnolia Pictures Copyright, Magnolia Pictures Copyright, Magnolia Pictures Copyright, Magnolia Pictures Copyright, Magnolia Pictures Copyright, Magnolia Pictures Copyright, Magnolia Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Magnolia Pictures

Armies in the Bible


Bow and arrows







Final judgment


How did Jesus greatly humble himself for us? Answer

What kind of world would you create? Answer


What is the Biblical perspective on war? Answer

Life Before Birth
Have questions about life before birth, or a woman’s choice about pregnancy and abortion? Visit this beautiful online presentation. Ask questions; get reliable answers.
Featuring: Tony Leung Chiu Wai (Zhou Yu), Takeshi Kaneshiro (Zhuge Liang), Fengyi Zhang, Chen Chang, Wei Zhao, Jun Hu, Chiling Lin, Shido Nakamura, Yong You, Ba Sen Zha Bu, Yong Hou, Philip Hersh, Tong Jiang, Jia Song, Chun Sun, Dawei Tong, Qingxiang Wang, Jinsheng Zang, Jingwu Ma
Director: John Woo
“Mission: Impossible 3,” “Face/Off”
Producer: Beijing Film Studio, China Film Group, Lion Rock Productions, Shanghai Film Group, China Movie Channel, Beijing Poly-bona Film Publishing Company, Beijing Forbidden City Film Co., Chengdu Media Group, Chengtian Entertainment, Zoki Century International Culture Media Beijing Co., Beijing Guang Dian Film & Television Media Co., Beijing Jinyinma Movie & TV Culture Co., Emperor Multimedia Group (EMG), Avex Entertainment, CMC Entertainment, Showbox Entertainment , Chengtian Entertainment Group (International) Holding Company, Three Kingdoms, Terence Chang, Guo Zilong, Han Sanping, Han Xiaoei, He Bing, Chin-Wen Huang, Xiaofeng Hu, Hu Xiaofeng, Tao Jiang, Yeh Ju Feng, Wu Kebo, WooTaek Kim, Liu Yan, Lu Hongshi, Masato Matsuura, Rick Nathanson, Peng Mingyu, Ren Zhonglun, Shi Dongming, David Tang, Teng Zhan, Lori Tilkin, Wang Jianqiu, Todd Weinger, Wang Wei, Anne Woo, John Woo, John Woo, Xu Jianshai, Xu Pengle, Yang Shoucheng, Yan Xiaoming, Cheri Yeung, Yu Dong, Yu Dong, Daxing Zhang, Zhang Qiang
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

“Destiny lies in the wind.”

Reported to be the highest grossing motion picture in Chinese box office history, and also the most expensive.

The movie “Red Cliff” is based on the Dynasty Warriors series which in turn is based on a historical battle in Chinese history which occurred in 209 A.D. In brief, the historical account portrays a battle at the Red Cliffs between Cao Cao on one side and Liu Bei and Sun Quan on the other. Cao has the numerical superiority while his adversaries are fighting on their home turf. The underlying conflict is between tyranny and freedom which the movie beautifully portrays through contrasts in the aesthetic tastes of the contestants. Cao Cao is conceited and has somewhat crass tastes in entertainment, while Zhou Yu and Kong Ming have elegant tastes in music and delight in the mysteries of nature.

The movie, similar to “Watchmen” and “The Dark Knight,” can be seen as a superhero movie where the heroes embody the culture’s values. In the two American movies, the characters represent a conflict in ethical systems; in “Red Cliff,” the superheroes are the generals who perform amazing feats in combat and display enormous dignity and humility. Indeed, what’s most refreshing about the movie is how the Chinese interpret their history positively. Even though the opening event contains the slaughter of civilians, it is the defense of the civilians that is portrayed as the normative value. Compare this with the kind of emphasis which Hollywood always chooses to place on American history which is to undermine our historical figures and the values they represent.

Thus, the movie is about the triumph of traditional values as portrayed through the critical metaphor of the tea ceremony. A leader who cannot understand the inner beauty of the tea ceremony is doomed to failure. Such a failure, in the culture’s context, signifies a spiritual deficiency. The lush cinematography lingers on scenes of beauty in nature, in music, in drawing, in women, and in the tea ceremony. The person who cannot understand the latter cannot truly understand any of the former. It is a lyrical moment of filmmaking and echoes visually what the character Kong Ming says of Zhun Yu: “His answer is in his music.” This is the kind of moment that one rarely finds in American cinema, which is obsessed with sex as a proxy for beauty.

Neither does “Red Cliff” demonize any groups of people, religions, regions, or the military as American films do. For Hollywood, the only war it is really fighting is against conservative American values. So, for example, in the academia which produces our writers and directors, at the University of Minnesota prospective teachers must actually repudiate belief in the “American Dream.” In the literary theory book I use in my classes, the author rails against the “American Dream” which she mentions 11 times in a two page diatribe as an ideology that rests on the misery of the many, as responsible for the genocide of Native Americans, for the enslavement of Africans, the abuses of immigrant populations, and as a wealthy lifestyle for only a few. The point here is that it is refreshing to watch a movie free of cultural Marxism and how ironic it is that a Marxist society can make one, while Hollywood cannot. Director John Woo does this by valorizing, not a political system but the values of the people. Yet, it is precisely those values—traditional families, religious practice, military heroes—that Hollywood hates about America.

What do Hollywood celebrities believe about spiritual issues? Find out

Why is there a disconnect between Hollywood and the rest of America? Answer

What is being done to change the values of Hollywood? Answer

Another paradox about the movie is that it is anti-war even as it glorifies warfare. Zhou Yu’s wife is shown writing the Chinese word for “peace” over and over again which is what she will name her unborn son. There is some historical basis for this as the first “peace” coin may have been minted during the Han dynasty, the very period the movie describes. Zhou Yu’s wife is instrumental in bringing “peace” by offering herself as a sacrifice. The movie recognizes the terrible cost in lives that war exacts, even as it acknowledges that war is sometimes necessary to preserve lives and even entire societies. There is no false sentiment that “peace” requires the surrender of a nation’s will to defend itself, as we see in Hollywood movies. Peace is offered by Cao Cao, but only at the cost of surrendering their identity. Rather than surrender to tyranny, the armies of “Red Cliff” determine to die defending their land and their values, even in the face of biological weapons that threaten to destroy them.

The movie is a lyrical portrayal of a resistance to evil. Thematically, Americans will recognize the conflict as a civil war, as a superhero movie, and even as a kind of Trojan war in which a man goes to war for a woman. Ultimately, the movie is about preserving the traditional values of culture against values which seek to usurp their place through ideology, tyranny, and the subversion of what is eternally beautiful for the crass pleasures of the flesh. “Red Cliff” is the kind of movie that Hollywood will not make and which one wishes Christians would, as it is replete with Christian themes such as sacrifice, humility, the value of unborn life, and the most compelling redemptive analogy of all—a “peace” child.

Possible grounds for objection include a lack of character development, some bloody battle scenes, and an intimate love scene which is between a married couple and which, in any case, is tastefully done. I recommend this film for those who like action movies, beautiful cinematography, historical epics, and foreign films, in general.

Violence: Heavy / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: Mild

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—This film is massive and enormous… What a spectacle! And still the characters are played out very well, even with some humour now and then. It left a deep impression and underlines the importance of loyalty, perseverance, wisdom and humility. A lot of blood is vividly flowing, but it depicts the reality of such an event. This film would end in my top 10…
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Erik Van Rossum, age 48 (Netherlands)
Neutral—“Red Cliff” is an ambitious film, to be sure, and is both beautifully artistic and sweepingly epic by turns, but I would not rate it as compelling a film as some others in the wuxia genre.

One aspect of the film that was definitely a distraction for me was the absurd amount of blood that went frequently and profusely flying. Message to John Woo: Go easy on the blood! In spite of the egregious effusions of erythrocytes, wuxia fans will likely not regret paying the price of a rental, as there are some wonderful acting performances (loved every minute of screen time featuring Takeshi Kaneshiro) and the usual amount of only-in-wuxia martial arts thrills.

However, I’m giving the film a neutral rating (along with a morality rating of “offensive”) due to the copious amounts of gore the viewer must endure whilst trying to enjoy the good stuff.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Chris, age 46 (USA)