January 05, 2012

Battle of Red Cliffs

The Battle of Red Cliffs was fought on the southern bank of the Yangtze River at the beginning of the third century AD. It signaled the end of the Han Dynasty and led to the tumultuous Three Kingdoms period, comparable in geographical scope and devastation to the Thirty Years' War in Europe.

John Woo's "50 percent factual" Red Cliff captures the massive expanse of Chinese warfare of the period--a quarter of a million combatants took part in the actual battles--and vividly depicts in the big climax how Huang Gai sent boats full of wax and straw into Cao Cao's anchored fleet.

The movie suffers from too much melodrama, depicting the "bad guys" in black-hatted, vaudevillian terms. The good guys can not only forecast the weather with uncanny accuracy, but anticipate every move the bad guys make. (This confusing of luck with intelligence is a constant gripe of mine.)

But if a DeMillean or Leanean spectacle is what you're looking for, nobody these days does actioners with non-digital "casts of thousands" anywhere but in China. Here are a few more notable examples of Chinese historical spectacles:

The Emperor's Shadow
The Emperor and the Assassin

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