Red Cliff

Rated 3.0

Originally rendered in two parts totaling nearly five hours, China’s most expensive and biggest-ever box-office hit may well count as a return to form for action-arriviste auteur/Hollywood casualty John Woo. But it’s hard to tell from this international-market abbreviation, somehow more tedious at half as long. It involves a series of epic, strategically intriguing battles between a war-mongering Han Dynasty prime minister (Zhang Fengyi) and an underdog alliance of his rivals (You Yong and Chang Chen, with celestially charismatic abettors Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tony Leung Chiu Wai). Even with an astounding and almost infinitely huge scale, the story and the action seem crowded, and the mythohistorical resonance gets squelched. “One by one, the rebel warlords have met their end under the sword of prime minister Cao Cao,” an English-speaking narrator intones, pronouncing it in just such a way as to sow the anticipation of an adorably fluffy, purple-tongued dog on some kind of rampage. If only Woo’s ambitiously computery artificiality could yield something so fun.