Woo’s Wish: East/West Unison

The worlds third largest economy may command respect for its military might and new superpower status.But director John Woo wants to use the universal stories of ancient China to build a more culturally respected worldview of the great nation.

His new film Red Cliff (read the review here) is one hes been trying to make for almost two decades to that end.The story of Red Cliff took place a thousand and eight hundred years ago in China, says the godfather of action-films. It was a battle bearing significant historical importance. Through the widely told tales of the battle, we learned of the great intelligence and bravery of the ancient people of China, who, though gravely outnumbered, managed to defeat their enemies.

With all this talk of Battles, and the Chinese cultural heritage of martial arts, one might expect Red Cliff to be nothing but a close-quarters fighting fest. But Woo’s ambitions for the film are much higher. He claims, My goal is for this film to rise above cultural and historical barriers, so that the Western audience feels as if they are watching an Asian Troy, while the Eastern audience can discover new perspectives on a familiar story.

Woo took a brave step in his dedication to historical accuracy. For me, the most attractive aspects of Romance of the Three Kingdoms [the novel many believe the film to be based on] are not the supernatural characters idealized by the novel, but true Heroism that the characters show.The world has many kinds of heroes, he continues but I like heroes that are real and human.

A Philosophical Woo

In 2008,China demonstrated their desire to forge closer links with the West through their hosting of the Olympic Games.It’s a sentiment shared by Woo, who says, I genuinely believe that human emotion is universal and not bound by culture. The same values of virtue, morality and friendship are praised in the West just as they are in the East. Though these feelings are expressed in different ways, deep inside, we all essentially share the same emotions. With this in mind, I disregarded a great deal of the details in the book when I made Red Cliff. We have a large production crew assembled from all over the world: China, America, Japan and Korea. During the course of our collaboration, talented people from both East and West were able to learn from working together.

While Woos comments are admirable, one cant help feel hes stretching his ambitions a little too far.For one, making a film that is supposedly closely linked to the history books about a culture existing 1,800 years ago, and then attempting to apply universal beliefs to the other side of the world is a little off-kilter.Secondly, if Woo really wanted a connection to be made with the West, why did we end up with the paltry 2hr 30mins version when the four-hour long Asian two-part release contained all the nuances and ancient subplots?

Maybe he wanted to do too much in making a realisticancient world film that was also accessible to the masses, provingChina can do Hollywood’ after all. In the words of Mr Woo, While audiences in the East love many great movies from the West, Western audiences also appreciate our splendid culture of the East. Therefore, I genuinely hope that when you watch Red Cliff, you do not look at it as a Chinese film or a Hollywood film, but as a global film.

Image by Markus Vandriel