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Red Cliff

Masterful Chinese battle epic is violent but fine for teens.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Though this is a war movie with plenty of violence, it's obvious that it ultimately doesn't support war. The heroes enter into battle reluctantly and only when it's clear that there are no other options. It's also clear that the villain is in the wrong and that his victory would spell disaster. The heroes win by using their heads and hearts, rather than brute force or mindless attacks. It's a definite David-and-Goliath story, with the heroes standing up against impossible odds and finding clever, cunning ways to enter the fray.

Positive role models

Once it's established that the characters are going to war out of necessity rather than because they want to or because it looks fun, they become interesting role models. They show great respect for one another, use their knowledge and instinct to succeed, and rely on each other to make up for their own weaknesses. By teaming up against impossible odds, they become a more effective force. There are also two strong female characters, each of whom takes action and risks her life for the common good.


Some heavy battle violence, with spraying blood and falling horses. Characters are stabbed with lances, and a character loses a hand. The villain sends several rafts piled with typhoid-infected corpses, inflicting the heroic soldiers who try to bury the bodies. There's also plenty of martial arts-related violence, and a scene in which a tremendous fire spreads across a fleet of ships, causing untold damage and death.


One sex scene between married adults. No nudity is shown, and the scene is very soft/gentle, but it's very clearly sex. There's also some very tame flirting between two soldiers (one is a girl disguised as a boy).


Not an issue.


Not an issue.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

In one scene, characters pour liquor on the ground in homage to their fallen comrades and also take a few sips. A character mixes some drugged tea for a villain to drink.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that director John Woo's rousing battle epic based on Chinese history definitely has plenty of violence (spraying blood, martial arts, etc.) and other war-related themes, as well as one notable sex scene. But there are also strong messages about war being a last resort, and the story has an optimistic driving force in the form of a growing friendship between two men who serve different armies but team up to fight a greater threat. There are also two strong female characters, each of whom risks her life for the greater good. Red Cliff is similar to films like Braveheart and Gladiator, but with a more poetic, gracious spirit. Older, less sensitive teens are likely to be enthralled, as will parents. The two-part, uncut, international version is now available on home video; besides the 288-minute length, the uncut version has richer, more developed characters and more nuanced battle strategies, but a similar level of violence.

What's the story?

During the Han Dynasty, the evil Chancellor Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi) embarks on a campaign to wipe out two rebel forces, with the might of the emperor's army on his side. Representing the two rebel armies, strategist Kongming (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and viceroy Zhou Yu (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) team up to battle Cao Cao; together they use wisdom and cunning against the villain's brute strength. The movie depicts several smaller, individual attacks and battles before building up to the ultimate showdown.

Is it any good?


As a battle epic, RED CLIFF is as impressively mounted as Braveheart and Gladiator. But as directed by Hong Kong action master John Woo, it easily surpasses them in terms of style and grace, action and cinematography. (It's currently the all-time box office champion in China.) Woo is one of the few directors alive who understands the poetry of action and the beauty of movement, emphasizing these things with a welcome clarity, rather than the usual hand-held action jumble.

Likewise, Woo's focus is less on the war itself than on the friendship between two rivals who've teamed up against a greater evil. Together they use wisdom and cunning to battle the sheer military might of their opponent. The movie unfolds in separate sequences, each representing an individual battle or attack, and it flows impeccably, without letting the numerous characters and plotlines grow too complex. All in all, it may be one of the greatest battle epics ever made. (The uncut, 288-minute international version, which is now available on home video, is preferable to the 148-minute U.S. theatrical cut.)

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the movie's David-versus-Goliath theme. How did the much smaller army stand up against the much larger one? Does the movie's theme affect the impact of its violent scenes?

  • It's unlikely that the two strong female characters existed in earlier versions of this story. Do they add to or detract from this movie?

  • One of the movie's last lines is "there's no victor here." What does that mean?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:November 18, 2009
DVD/Streaming release date:March 30, 2010
Cast:Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung, Wei Zhao
Director:John Woo
Studio:Magnolia Pictures
Topics:Sports and martial arts
Character strengths:Courage, Teamwork
Run time:288 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:sequences of epic warfare

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Teen, 13 years old Written byJapanese Gal November 25, 2009


I saw it in China.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Great messages
Teen, 14 years old Written byFILMCRITIC500 March 6, 2013

top notch swords and spears-fest has plenty of blood, but educational value

no amount of words can describe the pure adrenaline and awar-worthy filmmaking in this epic action movie from the legendary John Woo. the film plays like a documentary, but looks like a Lord of the Rings film, with large scale epic battle scenes. and although it is educational, the hyper-intense violence is too intense for young kids. as any John Woo movie, this film boasts a ton of violence. nearly every battle seuqence lasts for at least 10 minutes or more. people are stabbed, sliced, impaled, shot with arrows, blown up, burned alive, contaminated with Typhoid, and are basically killed in any way imaginable. viewers witness one of the main characters wife get killed, see a hand severed, a head help up (dripping blood) and splashing, spraying, spurting gore with almost every death. on happier occasions, a man and woman have sex onscreen, but nothing explicit is shown. content aside, the movie cotains sweeping cinematography, beautiful special effects, and enough action to award this film one of the spots on my Top 10 Action Movies.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Parent of a 17 year old Written byjesse180030 April 15, 2010
i love it this was a great movie
What other families should know
Too much consumerism
Great role models