Search DVDBeaver

S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r


L  e  n  s  V  i  e  w  s

A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Red Cliff (American Theatrical Version) [Blu-ray]

(aka "Chi bi")

(John Woo, 2008)






Red Cliff, Part I/Red Cliff, Part II also available in this package from Magnolia:





Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Lion Rock

Blu-ray: Magnet (Magnolia Home Entertainment)



Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:27:58.870 International (Part 1): 2:25:24.966

Disc Size: 48,763,758,668 bytes - International (Part 1): 48,024,931,295 bytes

Feature Size: 35,080,126,464 bytes International (Part 1): 36,213,915,648 bytes

Video Bitrate: 22.95 Mbps International (Part 1): 27.54

Chapters: 17

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: March 23rd, 2010



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: VC-1 Video Video




DTS-HD Master Audio English 2522 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2522 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
DTS-HD Master Audio Chinese 4203 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 4203 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)



English (SDH), English, Spanish, none




• The Making of Red Cliff: The Long Road – in SD (145:45)

• A Conversation with John Woo – in HD (27:00)

• HDNet: A Look at Red Cliff – in D (4:35)

• Storyboards



The Film: 7
So, the question is: Is John Woo's four and a half-hour, two-part original version of Red Bluff unnecessarily long or have sufficient padding that it not only could stand some cutting here and there, but perhaps benefit from it? I can't say I feel I know the film well enough to comment definitively – not after a single viewing of both the original "International" and the American Theatrical cuts. But I have never felt that Woo's ideas about pacing are gospel, though they are his. I feel he is more in love with the beauty of a scene than its place in the overall arc of his movie. His finales seem to have an inertia of their own, almost in defiance of the needs to resolve things of everything up to that moment. I have always felt the lengthy motorboat chase at the end of Face/Off to be destructive of the tension. Excitement should not devolve into exhaustion, but Woo worries the question more than most.

Cutting internally is another matter. Subplots, fleshing out of characters, extended metaphors for this or that relationship – these have special cumulative power in a film, as does the intercutting between scenes. If you pare away at scenes A & B, and cut between them, as he does with Cao Cao's invasion of the village where Liu Bei's wife and child are trying to escape, the effect on the audience will have to be different. In the truncated version, for example, wife and child aborted escape are abbreviated to a few gasps; we don't even see how she dies. And we are proportionally cheated out of General Zhao Yun's heroic attempts to rescue both wife and child, just as his sudden appearance on the battlefield wreaks havoc with our sense of time and space. There are risks and dangers with cutting. Enough said.

While the case of the old truncated American cut of Seven Samurai immediately comes to mind, my impression (for now) is that it had a better chance of making sense and standing on its own. While Red Bluff is no Seven Samurai, what hopes it has of offering a completely satisfying dramatic experience is trashed by such evisceration that would make even RKO blush. You think The Magnificent Ambersons had it rough! Whatever we feel about Red Bluff in its American version, it is clear that the International Version takes time to reflect and develop stories within stories and relationships that enhance our sympathy for what is at stake for both sides of the war.

One more thing: The home theatre experience is different from the Cineplex experience in a way that doesn't get much play in these columns: At home, we can stop and start a movie as we do reading a novel. A five-hour movie isn't likely to be watched in five hours of real time, and it might not even be seen over only two uninterrupted sittings. Even Wagner's Ring cycle is performed over four nights, and each act is separated by a substantial intermission. We can watch the movie again and again, replaying scenes - as encores or for clarification - in the middle of things. We might even openly engage in discussion with others in the room – something we are expected not to do in the theater on pain of raspberries. So, even though I make noises about tension and arc and all, I know that everyone's actual mileage is likely to be different, as it will be every time we see it.

The story of Red Cliff (named for the fortress held by Yu Zhou) takes place in the early part of the third century and centers around a legendary battle that would bring about the end of the Han Dynasty (and eventually spawn Luo Guanzhong's classic 14th century novel "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.") Power hungry Prime Minster (now "General") Cao Cao (Zhang Feng Yi) has convinced the young and easily intimidated emperor that two southern warlords, Liu Bei (Yu Yong) and Sun Quan (Chang Chen) represent potential insurgencies and a threat to the throne. To add some spice to the hunt, Cao Cao also has designs on the beautiful Xiao Qiao (Lin Chi Ling), the wife of Viceroy Zhou Yu (Tony Leung Chui Wai.) Kong Ming (aka: Zhuge Liang, played by Takeshi Kaneshiro), the brilliant military strategist to Liu Bei, attempts to unite the southern forces with those of Zhou Yu in a defense against Cao Cao, who armies and navy greatly outnumbers the combined armies of the south.



Image: 9/9    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-rays on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of video discs, including DVDs.

With a feature film bit rate that spreads from the upper 20s through the low 30s, the feature takes up only about 71% of the disc space, as compared to 92% on the Mei Ah for Parts 1 or 2. You might guess the reason has to do with the sizable extra features on the Magnet as compared to the Mei Ah. But there are other factors.

Yes, the Mei Ah appears to be denser, partly a function of its relatively higher black level. The Mei Ah presents a grittier movie – a film that takes itself seriously. On the other hand, clearly the Magnet is lovelier to look at – its very brightness makes it more agreeable without appearing to sacrifice solidity. It's only when compared directly to the Mei Ah that we wonder which is the more accurate in terms of contrast. There is a fairly consistent difference in color, with the Mei Ah appearing more saturated and redder. To my eye, the Magnet offers the more natural color.

I found no transfer issues of concern – not that there is much of a chance to reflect on the question thanks to Woo and his two cinematographers, Lu Yue and Zhang Li, and Tim Tip's fantastic production and art design. The print is quite clean and the occasional "HD" logo that appeared on my Mei Ah from time to time in the upper left corner has vanished.





Magnet Blu-ray TOP vs. Mei Ah Blu-ray (REVIEWED HERE) MIDDLE vs. International versions BOTTOM



Magnet Blu-ray TOP vs. Mei Ah Blu-ray (REVIEWED HERE) MIDDLE vs. International versions BOTTOM



Magnet Blu-ray TOP vs. Mei Ah Blu-ray (REVIEWED HERE) MIDDLE vs. International versions BOTTOM



Magnet Blu-ray TOP vs. Mei Ah Blu-ray (REVIEWED HERE) MIDDLE vs. International versions BOTTOM



More US Theatrical Blu-ray caps







Audio & Music: 7/8
On its own terms, the Chinese DTS-HD MA 5.1 offers plenty of dynamics, weight, clarity, snap, immersive battle scenes, but compared to any of the uncompressed 7.1 tracks on the Mei Ah, which has more bite as well as more nuance, spaciousness and presence. Even the dialogue has gravity without sacrificing clarity. I doubt the reason has anything to do with the being 5.1 and the other 7.1, but that the American Theatrical Version had to be so severely cut, oftentimes right in the middle of a battle sequence, that something was lost in the translation. Speaking of which, I finally gave up on the very unpromising English dub when General Zhang Fei yells "Charge" sounding a little too much like Arsenic and Old Lace's Teddy Roosevelt.


Operations: 7
The menu is in English only, with all functions easy to access.



Extras: 5
The new Magnet Blu-ray offers not only more bonus features, but they are subtitled where necessary. The sprawling, making-of diary may be in need of editing, but one can hardly fault it for scope, covering the year of shooting with comments by the filmmakers and cast (along the clearly identified with subtitles, I might add.) This two and a half hour documentary is presented in a thin 4:3/letterboxed image that is exhausting to watch, all the more so as the subtitles cover as much of the frame as it does. However, it is important that it exists for those of us who want to know in some detail the hows and whys behind John Woo's movie.

Watching however many hours we choose of Red Bluff, it is easy to forget that John Woo, who speaks English perfectly well, is the director of several films with English-speaking actors from Hard Target in 1993 to Paycheck in 2003, including Face/Off (1997) which demonstrates conclusively to American audiences what a brilliant director of actors he is. So here he is in an interview with Talk Show host Leo Quinones – it's worth a listen and a look, being in exemplary HD. The HDNet segment is what you'd expect: an extended trailer. The Storyboards consist of 98 beautiful drawings whose only drawback is their size: small and SD.



Bottom line: 7
My vote is for the original International Version, which is only a few dollars more for twice as much movie. In both versions, there are moments where characters discuss, argue, play music and make love, but it strikes me as hurried even if you've never seen the original film. Even without having Magnolia's International version to compare, short of an unexpected snafu, I can't imagine that its image or audio would be less good, and it has a couple of extra bonus features in the bargain. Or, you can have both. Then the only question is whether to get Magnolia's 2-parter if you already have the Mei Ah.


April 4th, 2010

As you can infer from the new caps of the Magnolia/Magnet Blu-ray from the International Version of Red Cliff Part 1, these are closer in color, density and crop to the Mei Ah than their U.S. Theatrical. The overall bit rate for the disc is 27.54 Mbps as compared to 39.34 for the Mei-Ah and 22.95 for the U.S. Theatrical release.
As for the audio, the Meh Ah DTS-MA 7.1 Mandarin is marginally to be preferred to the Magnolia/Magnet International, though the latter is closer to the Mei Ah than to the U.S. Theatrical. The Mei Ah offers just a little more nuance, dynamics and presence – but not by much this time. Both Magnolia/Magnet editions are in 5.1 only for those of you that can't take advantage of discrete rear channel information.
Of course, the complete Magnolia/Magnet now has more extra features, all with English subtitles, and it includes Part 2 as well for much lower cost than the two parts separately on Meh Ah. The complete Magnolia, like the Mei Ah, does not include an English dub, or any opening narration or a text introduction. Nor does it have those handy nametags that cue the unaccustomed Western eye to the dramatis personae. It does, however, include English and Spanish subtitles.

Leonard Norwitz
March 20th, 2010






Red Cliff, Part I/Red Cliff, Part II also available in this package from Magnolia:





About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

The LensView Home Theatre:




Hit Counter












DONATIONS Keep DVDBeaver alive:

Mail cheques, money orders, cash to:    or CLICK PayPal logo to donate!

Gary Tooze

Thank You!