Red Cliff, the film by John Woo based on the epic battle of Romance of the Three Kingdoms is divided into two parts. While the first was engaging in its depiction of such historical characters in Cao Cao, Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu, the second is all about war itself, which can be a little daunting to some. But that is just how war is.
You see, war is not about a spontaneous fight between two opposing parties. It has nothing to do with sword wielding 'cling clang' or battle cries and fistfights. The distinction has to be made since war is by far a larger context than a battle, although war itself consists many. In Red Cliff II we will see what is at play when war is raged. It cannot be pretty can it? But it can as this is the romanticized version of history and on screen John Woo made it even prettier.
The cast is strong with Tony Leung Chiu-wai as viceroy Zhou Yu, Takeshi Kaneshiro as adviser Zhuge Liang and Zhang Fengyi as Cao Cao, to name just a few. The list is long. A good cast will more often than not up the aesthetical appeal to a movie. For the female audience, Tony Leung charms with his manly portrayal of Zhou Yu, and Takeshi Kaneshiro is always a pleasure to watch as he liven every scene with wit and humor. For the male audience, it is the childlike yet seriousness of Zhao Wei as Sun Shangxiang, and Lin Chi-ling's poise and compassion as Xiao Qiao that allures.
But can war really be pretty? If you think that killing each other is a good way to express beauty then perhaps you can be on the same page as the tyranny Cao Cao. In part 1, where the emphasis of battle was on land with a very elaborate tactic devised by Zhuge Liang, here in part 2 we witness the battle at sea, physically and psychologically.
Back to the main topic of war, it is crucial that victory must be sorted as numerous lives are heavily at stake, whether or not these lives are valued or not, be they as added numbers or as friends. In war the emphasis is on strategies and tactics to win. And on strategies and tactics, I guess we no doubt have to consult Sun Tzu's The Art of War and also take reference to The 36 Stratagems.
I can refer that the epic battle of Red Cliff has two points that stood out when referenced to The Art of War and that is The Attack By Fire and The Use Of Spies.
Recorded in the 36 stratagems is the use of the enemy's own spy to sow discord in the enemy's camp by Zhou Yu. This famous move is of correlation to The Art of War where it is stated as having converted spies, getting hold of the enemy's spies and using them for our own purposes. In war all can be done, there can be no holds barred because any weakness can be exploited by the enemy. Zhou Yu can be said to have brilliantly disposed off of Cao Cao's main strategic threat because Cao Cao slain both his most dependable generals who are most versed in sea battles.
When 50,000 has to fight 200,000, who could blame Zhou Yu for such tactics, especially when Cao Cao first provoked by sending dead soldiers across to Zhou Yu's side on wooden rafts, knowing that disease spread through this mean can greatly weaken his enemy.
The other account decisive of the battle of Red Cliff is the Chain Strategem, although modified by John Woo in its depiction, with the key in Lin Chi-ling's character, Xiao Qiao.
It is interesting to sit through 141 minutes witnessing a romanticized version of John Woo's Red Cliff. Personally I didn't feel that it was long, however to some who wanted to see a Lord of the Ring's type battle on screen could be disappointed.
Sun Tzu's The Art of War states that the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the war is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but a few calculations before hand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.
The point of war however is that in war everybody loses. This should be what John Woo's Red Cliff is trying to tell us. I agree wholeheartedly with water in my eyes.