Reviewed by: Michael Karounos
|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|
“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|
“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.