FF76 - Red Cliff

Intro by Adam Pranica

None of the three hosts of Friendly Fire grew up in China or in families of Chinese background and today's film features a lot of people and place names that contain sounds that are unfamiliar to us. I say that just to make sure it is understood that if we pronounce anything wrong on today's show, it is because we are bad people who try to be wrong because we like getting corrected on Reddit.

Now, with that out of the way, if you didn't grow up in China, you like us might not be super-familiar with Chinese history. It is long, complicated and impressive. This is a huge country that has more or less considered itself to be one big country for a very long time. There is some archeological evidence suggesting dynastic rule dates back as far as 2100 BC. Now, the dynasty is controlled most of what we now consider to be the borders of China, but occasionally in this long history China has not been a single country, but a collection of states which occasionally went to war with each other and wars are the things that movies get made about and then we talk about it on Friendly Fire. Literally all of Chinese history has been leading to this moment!

Now, today's film is about the dawn of an era called The Three Kingdoms. In 208 CE, Cao Cao, a bigwig in the falling Han Dynasty tried to obliterate any military threat to the continued unification of China by bringing a 200.000 man army down the Yangtze River to crush two allied warlords who were not on board with the way Cao Cao was running the country. It is simply the story of how the allied army just 50.000 in number were able to repel Cao Cao and create an environment in which China was separated into three independent states.

This is a John Woo film from 2008 CE, so you are not going to be surprised to hear that it is big, stylish, and exciting. Wu is the master Hong Kong filmmaker who came to the US to give us beloved classics such as Broken Arrow, Face Off, and not to mention Wind Talkers, which is on the war movie list, and Hard Target, which is not. In setting out to depict the battle of Red Cliffs, he returned to China and amassed an enormous cast and $160 million in order to make a sweeping two-part epic spanning nearly five hours in total runtime.

Now, what we watched today is not quite what was released in China because what we have in the West is what was easiest to access. It is a cut down of these two installments that was released as a single film with the comparatively humane runtime of about 2.5 hours. That means John will only have to refill his tub twice to get through this film. It is a film that will really put Friendly Fire through its paces!

We are watching a culture grapple with its own history from a contemporary standpoint, and what does it mean that John Woo, a director from Hong Kong, which at the time of this recording is experiencing a political backlash against the totalitarian government of mainland China, is making a film about the subdivision of China? Surely the censors from the ruling party of that country wouldn't permit the financing and release of a film that they felt was subversive or seditious, so how does this period deep in the ancient past fit into the way modern China thinks about itself and how China would like the rest of the world to think about it.

This film was a giant hit, and not just in China. While its US box office numbers were measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the worldwide gross was a massive $250 million and China is really starting to make an intentional push into the international market with film. Don't think this is just a Chinese film for a Chinese market! We will do our best to address all of that, not to mention all the cool ancient battle tactics the film depicts, from repeating crossbows to troop formations: This film really has it all and we can't wait to get into it! Truth and illusion are often disguised as each other today on Friendly Fire as we discuss Red Cliff.

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