Red Cliff

by

If i mention, the Battle for Red Cliff, does it ring any bells? How about simply Red Cliff? Do you know where that is? No? Neither did I. Red Cliff, or its Chinese name Chi Bi is the subject of John Woo’s latest Chinese epic. It refers to the location of a gigantic historical battle in China’s most well known story – the romance of Three Kingdoms – now that sounded familiar, right?

The three Kingdoms period of China immediately followed the fall of the Han dynasty where rival Warlords fought for control in the wake of a vastly less powerful Emperor. China was divided into three individual kingdoms,Wèi (魏), Shǔ (蜀), and Wú (吳). Interestingly enough, Wuxi where we lived was part of one of these….Wu (surprise surprise!) The then capital of Wu was later conquered by the following Jin dynasty – the capital being present day Nanjing.

To cut a long story short(and i mean _long_ ) the Prime Minster of the North, Cao Cao convinced (forced) the young and weak Emperor to invade the Southern Kingdoms of Wu and Shu (Xu in the movie). The northern armies were vast and greatly outnumbered their Southern counterparts. Lead by Prime Minister Cao Cao himself, the size of the invading army itself was unprecedented. Warlord Sun Quan, called on  rival Warlord Liu Bei for an alliance knowing full well that through sheer strength in arms they stood no chance, though the 10,000 ships of Cao Cao were manned by largely inexperienced sailors – a critcal factor considering the Yangze River plays a key role in that region.  What transpires is a classic battle comparable to David and Goliath – where in true Chinese fashion, strategic brilliance of the underdog dictates the course of the war.

Now I have to say I really enjoyed Red Cliff. While we were in China the movie was advertised all over the place. Once in the Wuxi train station, waiting to head to Shanghai, we watched a trailer for it that went for no kidding at least 20 minutes. I commented to Courtney how they might as well just put the movie itself on as they basically covered everything in it! The Chinese aren’t ones to be phased by spoilers.

So the movie came out and well we were oblivious to it. I don’t mind the occasional Chinese epic, but having just watched one several weeks prior; the Warlords, starring Jet Li – they tend to be all very similar – if not identical. I assumed Red Cliff was basically in the same boat and didn’t look into watching it. It was however when flying home to Australia from China, I was feeling a little sentimental upon leaving so opted to watch it on the plane. I was surprised and really enjoyed it. It was around 3 and a half hours long, and only part 1 of 2! The movie itself was somewhat enjoyable, if not wildly over the top.

A key part of my enjoyment of any Chinese movie(such as Beijing Bicycle) is the Mandarin itself. I love recognising words as I watch. Sure I read the subtitles but I take strange pleasure in recognising more and more of the language as I slowly learn. I can’t speak considerable amounts myself, but what I do know slowly grows with time.

On Saturday night we headed into Box Hill seeking Dumplings. We ended up grabbing a nice meal in Dumpling King though previous to this ducked into the local Xinhua bookstore. It still cracks me up that we actually have a local Xinhua. Inside I noticed many familiar looking Chinese period actors on the cover of a myriad of DVD’s. In China, period drama’s are about as common as our Home and Away and Neighbors. This store is practically Chinese books, music and movies only, no English. Larger releases such as Red Cliff would have English subtitles, but for the average Chinese person living in Box Hill, this would be a very good store as material in your own language doesn’t exactly grow on trees(we experienced that in China!). I had been wanting to see the 2nd part of Red Cliff and managed to find it instore with a little help from the people who worked there; myself being unable to read Chinese characters. The staff seemed overjoyed to be serving a ’round-eye’, and as i paid a mere 12.00 for the DVD, commented on how lovely the plastic bag they were putting it into  – of course covered in Disney characters. I love Chinese people and their Chinese ways, I really do.

So if you are by any chance interested in watching Red Cliff I do recommend it. It goes forever and is really only for a niche kind of person, but i did find it enjoyable. I wouldn’t recommend watching both parts back to back as you’re likely to die of boredom despite some wartastic eye-candy. I was more amused to write about purchasing the DVD in Box Hill as I continue to be surprised at how much of a mini-China our suburb turns out to be. To this day I still really miss China – more so knowing Courtney is going back there in August – and really hope to get back there myself in the not too distant future.

But for now, Zai Jian!

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