Masterful Chinese battle epic is violent but fine for teens.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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.
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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.)
Talk to Your Kids 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?
- In theaters: November 18, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: March 30, 2010
- Cast: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung, Wei Zhao
- Director: John Woo
- Studio: Magnolia Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts
- Character Strengths: Courage, Teamwork
- Run time: 288 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: sequences of epic warfare
- Last updated: December 15, 2022
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