27
Jun 09

Chinese Odysseus Flips The Bird

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There is a sequence in Red Cliff where the sneeky tactician for the good guys lets go a dove to gather intelligence, and said dove flutters over the lake acting as a battlefield. In this flight the dove takes in everything, the boats, the standing army, the state of the camps finally ending up with one of the films heroines (an implausible spy truth be told). Its a tricksy piece of CGI which flows perfectly and shows much of what is good about Red Cliff, a modern sensibility on an old tale. Oh, did I say it was a dove? OF COURSE IT WAS, ITS A JOHN WOO FILM.

John Woo, him of the constant bird action, picks up a new trick for this return to Chinese film making. using a tortoise as well as a dove. And this version of the battle of the Three Kingdoms is both respectful of its source material and yet modern enough to work as a film. Insanely complex to those of us unaware of the historical and mythological story, Woo manages to streamline the complex battle down into a form we can understand. Basically he has remade Troy with a slightly different story and a better feel for the flow of the story. But as with the Iliad, the real hero of this film is our sneeky strategist. Because for all the might of the Chinese empire, knowing a bit about the weather and mastery of tactics trumps the brute force any day, Indeed the Sage of the Three Kingdoms is much preferable to the sack of Troy when considered like to like.
a) 3 Kingdoms takes place over about a month. Trojan War ten years.
b) The good guys (our heroes) in 3 Kingdoms is the minority force. In Troy the Greeks came in hundreds of ships.
c) Lots of sneekiness. Spies, use of weather and a trojan horse style double bluff works well for the 3 Kingdoms mob.
d) No stupid wooden horse.

I saw another film about the 3 Kingdoms last year which I really enjoyed. However Red Cliff barely reminded me of it, instead there was a sense that Woo was making this material his own. And yet it is played straight and a lot is filled in a small running time. As it is, Its terrific fun AND educational. And it takes palce around the last days ot the Roman empire to boot!

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