I believe there was a wait of around 6 months between the release dates of Red Cliff (Chi bi) and Red Cliff II (Chi bi xia: Jue zhan tian xia), but thankfully I did not have to wait that long, only just a couple of days to catch up on the concluding part of this epic journey in movie making by John Woo.
The movie does not waste any time and kicks into action immediately with Sun Shangxiang (Wei Zhao) infiltrating the army of Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang) as a soldier and gathering information and passing it on to Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro). Disease hits the army of Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang) with many soldiers falling ill and dying of typhoid and instead of cremating the bodies Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang) puts them on boats and sends them over to Sun Quan (Chen Chang) whose army too gets infected with the typhoid epidemic. The Southland allies find they are losing too many soldiers because of this epidemic and this leads to Liu Bei (Yong You) and his army deserting so that they can survive and regroup to fight another time. This leaves a fuming Sun Quan (Chen Chang) and Zhou Yu (Tony Leung) only with Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) for company to take on the might of Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang) and his 800,000 strong army.
There are a couple of sequences wherein Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) takes the help of fog and bad weather to steal 100,000 arrows from Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang) and Zhou Yu (Tony Leung) plots and schemes to have Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang) turn against a couple of his own naval commanders for treason and behead them. This leaves Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang) considerably weakened without the help of his naval commanders who are the only ones in the knowledge of the river routes and weather changes in the Southlands. The battle lines are drawn for the final assault wherein both Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang) and Zhou Yu (Tony Leung) with the assistance of Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) rely on the weather and strong winds for the final victory. Time is of the essence and Zhou Yu (Tony Leung) has to rely on every one of his allies including his wife Xiao Qiao (Chiling Lin) for victory against Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang). Things finally fall into place with the return of Liu Bei (Yong You) and his army for the epic battle on Red Cliff.
The final battle itself is only the icing on the cake as you get to have a sumptuous feast all along the way as the major protagonists in Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang), Zhou Yu (Tony Leung) and Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) all scheme and plot to gain the upper hand and win the war. The final battle sequences take up the last hour or so and as can be expected are huge and on a grand scale, but it’s the buildup to that point that is worth traversing too. As the movie enters its final stages Zhou Yu (Tony Leung) takes over the main leading role and the rest of the characters are regaled to the background. The female stars Xiao Qiao (Chiling Lin) and Sun Shangxiang (Wei Zhao) have more meaty roles in this sequel and both play pivotal parts in the war. At the end though Zhou Yu (Tony Leung) sums it up pretty well when he says there is no victor here.
John Woo continues in his trademark style shooting breathtaking action sequences and as in the first part there is a shot of a dove taken from overhead in a long panoramic overhead sequence that is purely exhilarating. While there are no overtly long action sequences there is a fair bit of martial arts thrown in, but it’s the power play and the scheming that will hold your attention all the way through. The final battle sequences are a treat to watch with lots of fire and huge explosions and then there is the final standoff in true John Woo style between Zhou Yu (Tony Leung) and Cao Cao (Fengyi Zhang) with both holding swords to his opponent’s neck and just about everyone else awaiting with bated breath to see who draws first blood. Chi bi and Chi bi xia: Jue zhan tian xia take movie making to new heights and are not to be missed.