Battle of Red Cliffs

Nearly at 200 A. D. in the chaos of Yellow Turban Rebellion, were formed three central forces. That is why this historical period is called ”˜three kingdoms’. These were 1. Wei Kingdom, actually ruled by Cao Cao, talented and resolute military leader, who actually controlled the emperor. He controlled central part of China. This part was the most destructed. The Army of Cao Cao was the biggest, but the same time it was not a reliable one, as armies of invaded areas were actually included into it. 2. Kingdom Wu ruled by Sun Quan. His lands were lying behind the Yangtze River and were the most serene part of China. Yellow Turban Rebellion and the following chaos did not actually touch them. The Army was not exhausted by endless civil war, but actually did not have any military conflict experience. Every enemy before trying to invade these lands, should firstly try to overcome the Yangtze River. It won’t be surprising that for such a case, the kingdom had a fleet, ruled by Zhou Yu, talented military official. 3. Shu kingdom was noticed for military leader Liu Bei, who promoted himself during military conflict with ”˜Yellow Turbans’. He also claimed to be relative to the emperor that is why he sometimes was called ”˜emperor’s uncle’.

But it is a well known fact that Liu Bei was from poor family and in his youth devoted himself to basketry. His army is not very big, but it’s major part were professionals, who had long lasting experience in military conflicts. By the time of the Red Cliff battle Liu Bei did not have permanent base. It provided mobility for his army but the same time, the problem of subsistence and rest for his army was quite acute.

According to the historical chronicles Liu Bei was considered to be charismatic leader. This quality made him a huge advantage in attracting to military service outstanding people. Among the most noticeable figures are his blood Brothers: Zhang Fei (a man of gigantic physical power) and Guan Yu (invincible warrior, after his death and till now, Guan Yu is honored in China as Mars in Ancient Rome). Also the noticeable figure who played significant role in this story are Zhao Jung ”“ desperate braveheart, who was simple peasant by his origin, but became one of the military leaders of Liu Bei. Another noticeable figure is Taoist Zhuge Liang ”“ outstanding politician and genius strategist, healer, magus and scientist.

Comparing of Historical Events and the Film
John Woo has took as a primary source for his film a book called ”˜Three Kingdoms’ written by Luo Guanzhong, he took the period known in the Chinese history as Chi Bi Battle of a battle of the Red Cliffs. It takes nearly 70 pages of the 900 page book. Liu Bei troop was retreating under the pressure of great Army of Cao Cao. The inhabitants of this area left their homes and followed the troop of Liu Bei. It is unexampled case in Chinese medieval war descriptions. The farmers in such wars were not taking an active part as military troops want to eat anyway, and rice, wheat and barly should be grown up by someone. And Cao Cao Army was actually met with a breath of relief as he was the on who could stop this chaos. It is supposed that charismatic traits and famousness of Liu Bei played a significant role in this case. Liu Bei protected peasant and this seriously influenced advance of his troops. He had to protect the farmers or his reputation of national hero among them will be lost. In the fuss of advance younger wife of Liu Bei was killed in the film (in the book she saved herself) and mother of his son killed herself. The troops of Liu Bei needed a respite and reliable ally. He actually suggested alliance to the Sun Quan and he agreed with one term, he got to persuade Zhou Yu, his military leader. Taoist Zhuge Liang was the one who achieved success with Sun Quan and was sent to persuade Zhou Yu. Zhou Yu did not wanted to take part in the military conflict, but Zhuge Liang found an argument (he told that Cao Cao wanted 2 Qiao sister to become a part of his harem, pretending that he does not know that Xiao Qiao is the wife of Zhou Yu, suggested to send them tyo Cao Cao as the guaranty of peace and friendship). Zhou Yu decided to take part in the war but according to the book he actually disliked Zhuge Liang and there was no friendship between them as it was shown in film. He even gave him impossible tasks to have a ground to kill Zhuge Liang. Cao Cao troops based near the Red Cliff itself, and according to historic data Cao Cao did not have fleet, but he ”˜owed’ it from invaded rulers. Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu did everything they could to compromise fleet leaders and it is essential that they had scouts in Cao Cao military camp, but Sun Quan Sister could not be such a spy. In the end coalition of Shu and Wu supported by genius of Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu, defeated numerous troops of Wei kingdom.

“Red Cliff” by John Woo

John Woo, a well known Chinese director took the subject line from the “Three Kingdoms” for his film “Red Cliff” based on historical events of medieval China. He masterfully combined some episodes from the book(which were not included in the description of Red Cliffs Battle) as using of Liu Bei troops reflecting shields to dazzle Cao Cao troops or dimensioned formation of United troops of Liu Bei And Sun Quan in the form of Turtle before the following battle. But episodes created specially for the fils, especially to realize female images seem to be less successful and overextended. First should be mentioned Sun Quan’s sister and her friend from the opponents Army. But the idea of Zhou Yu’s wife arriving to Cao Cao military camp seems to be very successful, in the combination of musical battle between Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu, But everything connected with her saving seems to be unnecessary. But all these are details, if we take the whole picture, it captivates the attention of viewer

Directing historical movie for the first time, John Woo masterfully showed battlefield scenes and separate combats. He masterfully showed the battlefield scene on the river, with floating Chinese lamps in the sky and burning fire-ships floating along the river. Slo-mo effect, parallel development of some moments, friendship and rivalry of the main heroes and even white doves also produces unforgettable impression on the viewer.

John Wu also paid great attention to the actor casting. Cao Cao in the book and in the film is actually negative character. But according to the Chinese history he is rather positive character than negative, as he had a strong will to unite China, under the rule of one emperor. That is why the invitation for such an important figure Japanese actor caused displeasure among the Chinese audience and he was changed on Zhang Fengyi. The director took incredible efforts and finally got expected success.


I think that despite some historical variance, the film directed by John Woo is successful. The director masterfully showed the atmosphere prevailed in medieval China in the period of fragmentation. He paid attention to all important moment. The manipulation undertaken by Cao Cao according to the emperor, even he had a strong wish to unite the country. One of the significant parts of Chinese history is masterfully depicted transferring the viewer in the Medieval China. I think that the main contribution of John Woo in the development of Chinese cinematography is popularization Chinese culture and history within the western audience. It is very important aspect as western and eastern histories in the medieval times were developing separately from each other. John Woo took into consideration the wishes and preferences European and American audience, certainly he took into consideration the preferences of Chinese audience and finally did not lost.

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