Although historical war epics are far from my favorite genre, John Woo's ginormous production of RED CLIFF is quite an enjoyable experience - especially on Blu ray.
It's full of impressive sweeping panoramic landscapes, bustling with brilliantly choreographed battle scenes, and crammed with immaculately crafted CGI; all of which immediately makes sense to why it was a huge hit in Asia (according to Wikipedia it broke the box office record held by TITANIC in mainland China).
Set in 208 A.D., Prime Minster Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang) of the Eastern Han Dynasty declares war on on the kingdoms of Wu and Xu, whose armies are led by Sun Quan (Chen Chang) and Liu Bei (Yong You) respectively. Tony Leung Chiu Wai (IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, INFERNAL AFFAIRS, ASHES OF TIME) plays Naval Commander Zhou Yu, whose military strategies unite the 2 factions against the attacks of Cao Cao's invading army.
The movie is essentially a series of set pieces weaving in and out of elaborate war sequences that build to the climax - the battle at Red Cliff. Thousands of arrows, flaming projectiles, and bombs are fired with a nice light on the stylized blood approach (unlike lesser war movies like MONGOL and 300).
War movies can be as baffling as sports to me - I never quite understand all of the plays. Not to say there isn't plenty of exposition - many tactics are discussed and maneuvers laid out, but I must admit that I got a bit lost in all the action.
But it's such a mighty and gorgeous package of visual splendor that in the end I didn't care. This review is based on the Blu ray theatrical version which takes the original 2 parts (over 4 hours in length) and edits them together into one 148 minute cut. That's pretty long itself but even though the truncation shows at times it's a thoroughly satisfying watch.
The other parts are available on Blu ray if you absolutely need more, but I think this version will suffice. When it comes to the audio, go for the Mandarin with English subtitles over the dubbed option. In the dubbed version the subtitles often don't match (which is annoying) and the phoniness of the voices makes the dialogue sound more cornball than it is.