Foreign Film Friday

Posted by WhenYourGodGivesYouLemons On 5:48 PM

Most of you may know John Woo, the highly successful Chinese filmmaker who made the transition from Chinese gangster flicks like A Better Tomorrow to mainstream Hollywood blockbusters like Mission Impossible II, Face/Off and Broken Arrow. Now Woo has made the transition back to Chinese cinema with his big budget, reportedly $80,000,000, two part film Red Cliff, released in 2008 and 2009.

Story... The story is based around the Three Kingdoms period of Ancient China when the Han Empire's Prime Minister Cao Cao proposes that the only way to unite all of China is to take over all of it, smart thinking. Therefore Cao Cao himself gathers together a ridiculously large army numbering in the hundreds of thousands to defeat the kingdoms of Wu and Xu, a supposedly inferior foe even when aligned. What transpirers is a series of battles, both physically and mentally which aren't always historically accurate, I mean this period has been referred to as the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. This all leads towards the final battle at Red Cliff where as always with historically based films Cao Cao's army and the alliance of Wu and Xu will engage in a history changing battle.

What it Did Well...
Even though they may not have been actually possible due to the filmmaker taking a few liberties with legends the battles, strategies and heroic generals involved were quite amazing. To me the film played out like a hard founght chess match where each side had their strengths and weaknesses, Cao Cao with his many mindless pawns and Xu and Wu having many great Knights and Bishops. The first part espeically portrayed the legendary status of the heroic generals of Xu and Wu with one general singlehandedly holding of Cao Cao's soldiers so his own men could retreat and then escaping captivity. Maybe unbelievable these scenes were super cool reminding you of when Jackie Chan takes on 20 men at once except these guys have swords and spears and lots more people die. Also the strategies used were quite amazing, it felt like you were actually part of a war with the issues of food, disease, weather and timing all taking part whilst the strategist for Xu and Wu was quite possibly a genius with his battle formations and strategies. Finally for a period movie it certainly had some awesome explosions and special effects. The large scale battles looked amazing and the firestorm created in the second film's naval battle was incredible, obviously combining special effects with lots of real fire for an amazing affect topped off with some cool explosions when the ships blew up.

What it Didn't... Whilst I could gather the basic story of the film it was hard to get any depth out of it without knowing the history around it and all the characters involved. Obviously if you are Chinese or interested in Chinese history you may find more meaning and plot development but at times it was hard to follow and I was just waiting for the enxt battle. The dialogue was ok, with a good deal of humour especially in the first film but sometimes I would forget names and places so I couldn't follow it very well although that's more my own fault. Also there was a lot of traditional Chinese music playing and singing which wasn't my cup of tea but did add to the overall feel of the film.

What Does it All Mean... Red Cliff is a good return to the Chinese market for John Woo which should be enjoyable for most Western viewers. Like most Asian films they look amazing with great costume design, sets and locations whilst the fight choreography is fantastic and at times stunning. I could watch certain scenes with the generals fighting wave after wave of men singlehandedly again and again they are just amazingly cool. The dialogue and the story do lack a little bit although that may be through me not knowing the history and stuff. Overall Red Cliff gets 7 flaming battle ships out of 10.

So I've looked at two Chinese films but what about that other great Asian film powerhouse Japan? Well I think a film that i purchased on DVD not that long is worthy of a review and that is the 2007 film Sukiyaki Western Django. Directed by Takashi Miike who is probably an unknown to Western audiences he did have a guest appearance in Hostel and has directed over 60 films to date. Sukiyaki Western Django actually features Quentin Tarrantino as a character called Ringo.

A gun slinging bad ass roles into a small town which supposedly holds the secret to a huge fortune. Two rival gangs, the Genji and Heike easily identifiable by their cool colour co-ordinated outfits (the Genji wear white and the Heike wear Red) both think the gunman has the skills to give thier gang the edge over the other. Faced with a bit of a Yojimbo situation the gunman plays the gangs against each other, seeing who will give him the largest portion of the fortune for his services. What emerges is a crazy mixture of Samurai inspired Spaghetti Western mayhem with plenty of action, greed, betrayal and general awesomeness in this age old feud.

What it Did Well... Surprisingly the film was filmed in full English not Japanese and it actually sounds really good. Sometimes you get those dodgy voices when they try to film in English but Sukiyaki Western Django sounds good. The costumes the two gangs wear are just awesome enveloping that crazy Japanese street style mixed with traditional Western (as in the cowboy genre) styles. Also as I said before because it's from the Asian market it's fight scenes are just something else. Sukiyaki carves out it's own style by the bizarre mix of weapons, ranging from six shooter pistols to gattling guns to crossbows to samurai swords so you never know what to expect in a fight. The story is actually really good as it's that age old tale of greed, lust, love, betrayal and a never ending blood feud you can never go wrong with. What makes it new and fresh is the mixing of the Samurai and Western style. The characters were also really cool, Quentin Tarrantino's role is rather memorable even though it's short whilst the towns sheriff is quite funny and very treacherous, the leader of the Genji gang looks like a pop star and the duel between him and the lone gunmen is rather amazing.

What it Didn't...
I know die hard fans of Miike may yell at me for this but the sex scene in it is very Miike which means it's a violent sort of scene where the girl is like forced and stuff. It just made me feel a little awkward watching it I mean I'm not a huge fan of sex scenes to begin with but this was even worse. Aside from that I can't really think of too much it did wrong.

What This All Means... Sukiyaki Western Django is a great film, if you like the works of Quentin Tarrantino ( a fan of Miike) or Miike himself then you'll love this film. It's beautifully shot, the characters are well crafted and memorable, the action is once again amazing and if you can sit through a little awkwardness then you should really like this film. Sukiyaki Western Django gets 8 shots in anger out of 10.



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