“Red Cliff”

 
            In the year A.D. 208, there was a massive, legendary battle in China .  After years of civil war, the Northern Emperor finally manages to overcome enough warlords to manage a war-weary peace.  But his chief general, now even more ambitious, assures the Emperor that if he could send his entire army into the south, he could defeat the three remaining rebellious warlords there, and unite all of China into one huge dynasty.  The Emperor relents, and the general is overjoyed at the prospect of riding at the head of a hundred thousand-man army, complete with naval flotilla to sail the Yangtze River to destroy the last remaining rebel armies.
            This is like Hitler deciding to take on Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt all at once, in one gigantic land and sea battle that would decide the fate of the entire war.  Of course, the three Allies, prior to being faced with the enormous threat, didn’t really trust each other.  But in the face of such an overwhelming enemy, they felt they had little choice.
            It begins with a cavalry feint---a few female archers so enrage the advance units of the Northern army that they run right into the “turtle” trap, with soldiers using their shield for protection, and lashing out with lances to spear the legs of men and horses.
Then there’s the siege itself, where the Southern forces, so incredible outnumbered, have to figure out other ways to turn the tide in their favor:  a spy in the enemy camp, the beautiful wife of a commander asking for a private audience with the enemy commander, and then charming him into a crucial delay.  The Northern commander, not without his own cunning, sends the enemy the bodies of his own dead soldiers, who have contracted typhus.  This sends the disease spreading like wildfire in his enemy’s camp, and also causes a (temporary) rift in the alliance.
            Director John Woo excels at the massive battle scenes, and yet he is also interested in showing us the small, elegant beauty of water dripping in a pond, cloud formations, and the quiet dignity of silent throngs, awaiting one word of command from an esteemed leader.  And the fate of the known world can hang in the balance of a rising tide, a wind that changes direction, a sudden jealousy, a few careless words.
            Yes, it’s an epic, with a cast of thousands, but it’s also a glimpse into another world, in another place and time.  It’s a story that captivates, and a re-telling that mesmerizes.