Woo's 'Red Cliff' Is Traditional Movie Blockbuster

Chinese director John Woo has brought his Hong Kong action style to Hollywood films such as Face/Off and Mission Impossible II. He's gone back to China for his latest, Red Cliff, which is the most expensive film in Chinese history.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now it's going to be hard to top that video experience, but the Chinese director John Woo is going to try. John Woo has brought his Hong Kong action style to Hollywood films such as �Face Off� and �Mission Impossible 2.� And he's gone back to China for his latest, �Red Cliff.� Kenneth Turan has our review.

KENNETH TURAN: John Woo's new challenge is to be as old-fashioned as possible. The director has returned to his Asian roots after a stint in Hollywood. And he's made a massive historical epoch that marks a new direction for one of the world's premiere action maestros.

Woo's classic Hong Kong action films have tough guy names like �Bullet in the Head� and �Hard Boiled�. They feature lean, focused, almost balletic gangster shootouts that used lightening fast editing to dazzle audiences.

�Red Cliff� is both throwback and change of pace. It's the most expensive film in Chinese history. A traditional blockbuster that used four writers, three editors, two directors of photography, 300 horses and a cast and crew, including star Tony Leung, that came close to 2,000.

The battles in this film are endless, but the story line can be told in a sentence or two. A tyrannical warlord moves against two different rebel groups who combine forces in self-defense. Generals face off against generals, using clever rouses like turning shiny metal shields towards the sun to blind their opponents.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

TURAN: Because it's filled with wall to wall battle scenes, �Red Cliff� feels like the kind of movie the director must have dreamed about when he was a child. It's a four-square endeavor where women are beautiful, men form manly bonds, and warriors with six arrows in them walk around as if nothing happened.

The story Woo decided to film is the tale of a legendary battle in 208 A.D. that changed the face of China. While the two hour 28 minute American version may sound long, it's actually streamlined compared to the five hour edition that the director released in Asia.

�Red Cliff� also has time for timeless dialog. A loser joins forces with a coward. The tyrant snarls when his opponents unite. What can they accomplish? He's about to find out.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

(Soundbite of music)

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