This sequel picks up where the 2008’s Red Cliff left off. Tsao Tsao’s (Zhang Fengyi) army has sets their massive camp on the opposite bank of the “Red Cliff” where on the other end, the allied forces of Zhou Yu (Tony Leung) and Liu Bei are prepped and vows not to give up without a fight. This latter half of John Woo’s magnum opus should be one to deliver much excitement as judging from the first film, this is where the real meat is and in that extent, to a certain level of appreciation, plus given that I’m not a purist in the tale of “Three Kingdom”, history or otherwise, at least I’m satisfied with it. Most of the time.
The first film left off when Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) looks far to the horizon that has been filled with a glimpse of Tsao Tsao’s naval army. Then he releases a white pigeon from his hand, and the camera follows as it soars through the sky, revealing the magnitude of Tsao Tsao’s army until it focused on the man himself amidst the traditional Chinese’s equivalent of a soccer game, and the end credit rolls shortly afterwards.
Some, probably most, me included, had thought that this is one of those gimmick shots where John Woo is famous for. Yep, the pigeon scene and after the dubious and overlong tale which has some awkward moments, I laughed at the scene and mumbles to myself about how John Woo could spare a time to squeeze his signature scene in an awkward and apparently pointless scene just for the sake of this-is-my-film-and-everybody-should-know-it.
It turns out that the scene has a perfectly reasonable explanation (or justification, your choice) and what seems as a pointless filler me-and-mine-time scene at first, turns out to be a crucial major plot element in the second film.
Overall, those who wanted this film to be an all-out war for two hours long would be tad disappointed, as this film only features ONE war that occupies the final thirty minutes of this film. Even so, I should say that the build-up was awesome, bar none. All the characters were lined in beautifully, Zhuge Liang for instance, he has his own shining moments that I’m sure would made his fans nodded in approval. Although I had a slight objection toward the women’s role in this film. However, these women I’m talking about, they’re gorgeous and easy to look at, so all is forgiven. Well, almost. In this film, against his usual fare, John Woo made two strong female characters whom one of them made a decision needed to advance the drama, and the other (along with the pigeon) even has her own sub-plot and was a crucial element toward the overall plot. I’m not a “Three Kingdom” purist per se, but I hardly remembers any tale from the history or fiction alike about “Three Kingdom” that ever mentions the women’s role as fighter as it was apparent in this film.
Then, it should be noted and quite obviously trivial that the center role of this film is Zhou Yu and Tsao Tsao so you get to see them a lot. And unlike the first film, we don’t see much of the iconic characters from “Three Kingdom” such as Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, and perhaps, Liu Bei in action. With a slight exception to Zhao Yun whom I heard, was John Woo’s favorite as he had a slightly longer action time when he danced with Zhou Yu.
My rating: *** / **** Much improvement and much more enjoyable than the first film, although the inclusion and increasing women’s role and a very different ending than in the book might shakes some fists from the “Romance of Three Kingdom” purists.