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January 31, 2010
The Battle of Red Cliff Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
12/11/19986/1/2010Icon FilmsJohn Woo
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1MA15+Tony Leung

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Red Cliff is quite brutal and bloody at times.

John Woo is a director I have always admired, in fact, I have a signed photo from him that sits framed in my computer office here. After building up a strong Asian resume he finally landed in Hollywood with a string of hits including Broken Arrow, Face/Off and Mission Impossible II before a few duds which saw him scampering back to China where he regrouped and shot China's most expensive movies Red Cliff (released July 2008) and Red Cliff II (released January 2009). With a cost of $US80 million the two movies grossed an impressive $245 million - the bulk of which came from Asia.

For those outside Asia, we weren't to be so lucky with the two movies scrapped in favour of a single movie called The Battle of Red Cliff. In condensing the two movies into one the runtime dropped from 280 minutes, to 148 minutes, and it is this single movie version we are reviewing here. Fortunately Icon Films have been kind enough to also release the two movie version as a 2-disc set and you can expect a review of that version soon.

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800,000 troops on the river!
In 208 A.D., in the final days of the Han Dynasty, shrewd Prime Minster Cao Cao convinced the fickle Emperor Han the only way to unite all of China was to declare war on the kingdoms of Xu in the west and East Wu in the south. Thus began a military campaign of unprecedented scale, led by the Prime Minister, himself. Left with no other hope for survival, the kingdoms of Xu and East Wu formed an unlikely alliance. Numerous battles of strength and wit ensued, both on land and on water, eventually culminating in the battle of Red Cliff. During the battle, two thousand ships were burned, and the course of Chinese history was changed forever.

Much has been made that this movie isn't historically accurate and perhaps that is the case (We haven't read the Three Kingdoms books to detail authenticity) however much like Gladiator or Braveheart that doesn't mean this isn't an entralling story with great characters and epic battles.

Admittedly there are a few somewhat silly moments in this film. A female being able to dress up as a soldier and infiltrate the enemy camp is ludicrious - you could have at least picked an actress that looked 'manly' rather then the rather sexy Sun Shangxiang who would have been spotted as a female infiltrator a mile off. The final fight too includes one ludicriously over the top move which we can't detail for fear of spoiling the movie, but you'll know it when you see it.

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Battle of Red Cliff is now on Blu-Ray.
To me, The Battle of Red Cliff is easily one of the most impressive Asian movies ever made. Sure, it takes some liberties from the actual events that supposedly took place some 1800 years ago, but I can forgive that. This is quite a spectacle and even in this shortened version there is much to like about this film and certainly sees a return to form for John Woo.

Talk about impressive. Icon Films transfer of The Battle of Red Cliff to Blu-Ray is one of the finest efforts we have seen on the format to date. It appears that the video bitrate almost constantly hovers around the 35Mbps mark which is exceptionally high and even during many of the more static moments this bitrate rarely drops below 25Mbps. Colours appear natural while the level of sharpness from the 1080p Blu-Ray resolution really allows the gorgeous attention to detail to come to the fore. Shadow detail is impressive while the stunning cinematography really shines with this transfer. So much of China hasn't been seen by the West but movies such as this really bring out the stunning beauty which much of the country has to offer from the gorgeous rivers, to lush green mountains it's simply jaw dropping.

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Battles in Red Cliff are massive.
There were a couple of moments in the film, such as the pullback on the boats in the river which looked a little too CG-ish but that is more to do with the post production then any transfer issues. All-in-all though we're going to call the video on this release reference quality.

Not to be outdone the audio on this disc is also superb. Icon Films have included the original Mandarin track in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (16-bit/48Khz) and besides the opening dialogue the rest of the film includes English subtitles.

Now I don't understand Chinese, besides the occasional word which I recall from high school and some Chinese friends of mine, but I can hear that the audio here is crystal clear. This is also apparent from the gorgeous musical score and of course the audio effects which range from subtle moments such as birds chirping or fires burning, through to the massive battles often with hundreds of horses thundering across the lands. This really is a stunning audio transfer.

If I were to pick two negatives it would be that Red Cliff was released on Blu-Ray in Asia with LPCM 7.1, DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 on the one disc. While there wouldn't be much audible difference between the three formats (provided they are all 16-bit) where we do miss out is on the 2 extra channels which may disappoint some.

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Considering the battle plan.
There are no other audio tracks (English dub) nor subtitles on this disc. We did find it a bit strange that there weren't Chinese subtitles on the disc.

Sadly there isn't a great deal of extras on this disc which is a shame given the massive budget and box office (in China at least) for this movie.

John Woo Interview (16:01): I always find John Woo quite an interesting person, and in this featurette he discusses the production of Red Cliff including the decision to make this film, how it compares to Hollywood productions, and telling a Chinese story to a wider, non-Chinese, audience. It's worth a look. We did find the volume level on this feature quite low so be prepared to turn it up.

Making of Red Cliff (20:53): So my own mother can do better editing then what we see in this featurette (the screen goes black after almost every cut for a moment), but for 20 minutes we have almost entirely on-set footage from the filming which is quite interesting and even shows some of the mistakes and accidents on set. Again, the volume level is quite low so turn it up but this featurette is also shown in widescreen for 4:3 TV's which therefor places borders on all four sides on a HDTV.

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The Emperor has a decision to make.
I was extremely impressed by this movie when I saw it at cinemas, and I am still very much a fan having seen it three more times on Blu-Ray (twice theatrical, also the 2 movie version to be reviewed soon). If anything the Theatrical version is a bit tighter and quicker paced then the 2 movie version, and fans of Chinese movies would do well to check out The Battle of Red Cliff. Icon Films have provided a stunning transfer which will show off any home theatre. Extras are a bit lacking, but putting that space to the lengthy movie was always the right option. This is a rental at the very least, but for fans, a purchase is more then warranted.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyrightę Icon Films. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.