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After 16 years in Hollywood, Hong Kong action auteur John Woo made his triumphant return to Asian production with the two-part Chinese historical war epic Red Cliff, the first half of which was the most expensive and most successful film in Asia, ever, on its release last year.
The Western release, a condensed version that combines the two parts, has a free preview screening Monday 11/16 at Landmark's Century Centre.
Red Cliff pits a fractious alliance of southern warlords led by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai against a devious conquerer from the north (Zhang Fengyi) in a protracted confrontation that includes dazzling cavalry and naval skirmishes.
The story is based on a pivotal 3rd Century battle that has been well-adapted in China, and it feels like some of the slight characterizations on display in this condensed version might be far more resonant to Chinese audiences already familiar with the characters.
To me the most striking element is the exquisitely realized way that Takeshi Kaneshiro, an advisor to the southerners, brings elemental forces of fire, air and water to bear to against their otherwise mightier adversary.
Red Cliff opens theatrically Nov. 25 at Landmark's Century Centre. It screens Monday 11/16 at 7 PM at Landmark, 2828 N. Clark. Passes courtesy of the Midwest Independent Film Festival. Screenings are overbooked to ensure capacity so arrive early.