Red Cliff Part II [赤壁] (2009)
AKA The Battle of Red Cliff

Starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei, Hu Jun, Shidō Nakamura, Lin Chi-ling, Tong Dawei, Hou Yong, You Yong

Directed by John Woo

Expectations: Moderate to high. I enjoyed the first one a lot and I hoped that Part II was as good.

So the question is this: Does Part II live up to the expectations built up after watching Part I? Yes, yes it does. I liked this 140 minutes of Red Cliff more than the first 140 minutes, not necessarily because it’s better, but because of familiarity. Part II opens with a brief rundown of what happened in Part I over the credits. The first new shot is of troops opening the gate into Cao Cao’s camp. The music swelled and I broke a smile. It reminded me of how I felt when I first saw Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Both films (Rings & Cliff) were made as one movie and then chopped into parts for release. So instead of the feeling of watching a sequel, with a slightly different production style, you are watching more scenes from the same movie. It’s a good, nostalgic feeling of revisiting something you love and finding treasures you had never seen before.

From there, Part II just consistently entertains. I especially enjoyed the part when Sun Shangxiang (Zhao Wei) is infiltrating and mapping Cao Cao’s camp and when the Southerners use a very inventive way to get the 100,000 arrows they need. The end battle of Part II is nothing short of spectacular. It’s a part naval battle, part castle siege, part kung fu action extravaganza. Like Part I, this end battle fills up the final hour of the film. The review would not be complete without mentioning how awesome Zhang Fengyi is as Cao Cao. Absolutely perfect in the role. All the actors are great, but Zhang Fengyi’s performance really caught me by surprise.

Both films are full of standard John Woo touches such as the doves, slow-motion violence and Mexican standoffs, but none of it feels forced or out of place as it has in some of his American films. The films really are a great triumph for Chinese cinema. I’ve seen tons of Chinese and Hong Kong movies over the years and I am hard pressed to remember anything that comes close to the level of epic spectacle that Red Cliff oozes. The two films originally came out in Asia a few months apart and Red Cliff Part II benefits from the added time in post production. The minor problems I had with the animations in Part I are essentially non-existent in Part II. This film is also better than Part I in the same way that Godfather II is better than The Godfather. It builds on the first film’s foundation perfectly. The second could not exist without the first, though, and in watching the second, my appreciation for the first has increased.

A word to the wise. You might be thinking, “I don’t really have five hours to waste on one movie. Maybe I’ll watch that US edited version that’s only 2 1/2 hours.” Don’t. I can’t stress it enough. Watch the “International Edition Parts I & II.” If you have any interest in this movie, you are doing yourself a disservice by watching the US edition. Part I is reduced to about 54 minutes. C’mon now.

I feel very satisfied with my viewing of Red Cliff. It is, by far, John Woo’s best movie in years.