Who's In It: Tony Leung, You Yong, Chang Chen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi
The Basics: The legendary Battle of Red Cliff that took place in China in 208 AD, now finally on screen like you've always wanted. Okay, that's kind of a lie. I had no idea what the legendary Battle of Red Cliff even was until I watched this film. But in China it's a story as well known and as big a deal as Macbeth or Hamlet, a historic (turned mythic) war epic about brutal, inventive armies and rebel alliances and power-mad military men. And even though I didn't know I wanted this history lesson brought to the screen, now that I've seen it I'm glad brilliant director John Woo told Hollywood to suck it and then went back home to make it all happen.
What's The Deal: They don't create war movies like they used to. At least not in the United States. There's always got to be some commentary on the futility of it all, somebody telling us how "war really sucks, man." (And yes, in real life in 2009 that's true, since actual wars are only fought over money or absurd religious conflicts anymore.) But in a movie like this what you really want the filmmakers to focus on is showing us heroic guys hoisting their dead enemies on long spears and hurling them fifty feet into the air. Which is why I can wholeheartedly recommend this really violent, action-filled, monster-scaled spectacle. Go now before it leaves theaters.
Where It Comes From: Based on the classic Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms written over 700 years ago, it's been turned into video games and graphic novels and is part of Chinese historical legend. As for the movie itself, it's actually a two-part, five-hour film that Woo edited down to two and a half hours for Western audiences. According to people who've seen the five-hour version a lot of the more intimate dramatic moments were left behind (which just makes me want to see the long version even more) but when you don't know any better you hardly miss them.
The Upside Of Typhoid: In this film you learn lessons both brutal and delicate, such as how to turn diseased corpses into weapons to use against your enemy or how to create distractions with fancy tea parties until conditions are right for the inevitable onslaught. So it's not merely entertaining. It's also educational.