Monday, 23 August 2010

Truth And Illusion Are Often Disguised As Each Other.

I briefly mentioned my love for Tony Leung back here, but the older I get and the more films I watch him in the more I realise I have a quite unprecedented crush on the man, considering is, what, fifty-odd? Almost. Oh, 48. That isn't so bad. But it's quite long-lasting. At uni our units relating to contemporary cinema invariably looked a lot at Asian cinema, and he does feature quite a lot in that particular region. Especially considering the heart that was directed at Wong Kar Wei back in the early years of last decade, before 2046 (which isn't terrible, mind) and My Blueberry Nights (which I haven't seen, but I have never held my breath for) came out. I think my true love for him, however, stems from my 200...5 (?) watching of Happy Together at an ACMI curated festival of WKW films at the Dendy in Circular Quay. It was the first time I'd seen the film, it was a last minute decision as my boss had a spare comp ticket, and I loved the film. I'd always liked Leung before that, but with the addition of a much, much loved film he suddenly jumped higher. And now I've seen a bunch more titles with him, and my love for him (more a strong emotional respect than the kind of love I have for, say, Jónsi, Brad Pitt or Joseph Gordon Levitt, mind) grows each time I see him in something.

Which is almost entirely beside the point. This has nothing to do with love, really, or with Happy Together, WKW or my future husbands. It's to do with John Woo's first Asian film since 1992 (or his first two films, depending on where you happened to take them/it in.) Apparently, the story is quite well known in China, but it was deemed to confusing with too many characters with similar names for western audiences to handle unabridged, so the two part film was reduced to one film (still two and a half hours long, but that's well reduced from the four of the original) for our eyes. Probably for the best. I do sometimes struggle. As we know.

Red Cliff is an epic Chinese war film, that surprisingly does away with the general martial arts stylings that seem to be favoured by the big action pieces that seem to have emerged from the region over the last decade or so (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, House Of Flying Daggers etc.) I have no issue with this martial arts style, but it is nice to see something a little more lo-fi. Having said that, John Woo does know how to go for big action stylings.

The story is ostensibly about duelling war lords in the China of 1800 years ago. There are alliances broken and collapsed, treachery suspected and punished, ploys both successful and unsuccessful. And at the end, the battle of Red Cliff, the climax. Both sides employ some clever (and marginally diabolical... though if only modern warfare were so poetic) tactics in order to both unsettle and offput their opponents, and the final battle is terrific to watch for its cleverness and luck. Tony Leung sniffs out the wind and everything goes well for the right people (of course - that's not a spoiler, that's a fact of life in the movies, honey. Especially ones with mammoth budgets.)

Woo, who wrote the script also, does very well. I believe the last film I saw of his was Face/Off, though there is a chance I saw M:I-2 also... generally speaking, his aren't the kinds of films I enjoy. This, however, I enjoyed. I liked the way it looked, I liked the way it played. The focus wasn't merely on the action, but neither was the prominent subplot a love story - it was about tactics, about past wrongs. It was more cerebral than emotional, with the head feeding into the heart. I liked that. It kept me thinking, rather than trying to manipulate me into feeling - something I find happens all too often. The performances weren't overly important, but they were good. Leung was gently commanding with his presence, taking over last minute from Chow Yun-Fat whose physicality would possibly lend himself more to this position. Photography from Lu Yue and Zhang Li was good, though the visual effects could have done with a bit more money thrown at them, or a little less reliance to make their sometime clunkiness a little less distracting.

Overall, it was a good film. I'd actually really like to watch the double feature version now that I've wrapped my head around the basic story, but that's one for the future. For now we'll just leave my enjoyment at 3.5 stars.

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