Red Cliff (2008): Part 01


Red Cliff or Chibi (Chinese: 赤壁) is a 2008–2009 Chinese epic war film, based on the Battle of Red Cliffs (208–209 AD) and the events at the end of the Han dynasty and immediately prior to the Three Kingdoms period in Imperial China.

The film was directed by John Woo, and stars Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei, Hu Jun, and Lin Chi-ling.


In China and much of Asia, Red Cliff was released in two parts, totalling over four hours in length (288 minutes). The first part (146 minutes) premiered in Beijing on 02 July 2008 and the second (142 minutes) was released in China on 07 January 2009. Outside Asia, a cut-down single 148 minute version was released in 2009. However, the full-length two-part version was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the United Kingdom on 05 October 2009, and in the United States and Canada on 23 March 2010.

The first part of the film grossed over US$127 million internationally and broke the Asian box office record previously held by Titanic in mainland China.

Director John Woo said in an interview with David Stratton that the film is only 50% factual. Woo decided to alter the story using modern feelings and his own feelings for a more worldly acceptance. According to Woo, historical accuracy was less important than how the audience felt about the battle.

Outline (Part 01)

Part 02 here.

In the summer of 208 A.D., towards the end of the Eastern Han dynasty, the Chancellor, Cao Cao, leads the imperial army on a campaign to eliminate the southern warlords Sun Quan and Liu Bei, whom he denounces as “rebels”. Emperor Xian reluctantly approves the campaign. Cao Cao’s mighty army swiftly conquers Jing Province. The Battle of Changban is ignited when Cao Cao’s cavalry starts attacking civilians on an exodus led by Liu Bei. During the battle, Liu Bei’s followers, including his sworn brothers Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, give an excellent display of their combat skills by holding off the enemy while buying time for the civilians to retreat. The warrior Zhao Yun fights bravely to rescue Liu Bei’s entrapped family but only succeeds in rescuing Liu’s infant son.

Following the battle, Liu Bei’s advisor, Zhuge Liang, goes on a diplomatic mission to Jiangdong to form an alliance between his lord and Sun Quan against Cao Cao. Sun Quan was initially in the midst of a dilemma of whether to surrender or fight back, but his decision to resist Cao Cao hardens after Zhuge Liang’s clever persuasion and a subsequent tiger hunt with his viceroy Zhou Yu and his sister Sun Shangxiang. Meanwhile, Cai Mao and Zhang Yun, two naval commanders from Jing Province, pledge allegiance to Cao Cao, who puts them in command of his navy.

After the hasty formation of the Sun–Liu alliance, the forces of Liu Bei and Sun Quan call for a meeting to formulate a plan to counter Cao Cao’s army, which is rapidly advancing towards their base at Red Cliff from both land and water. The battle begins with Sun Shangxiang leading some riders to lure Cao Cao’s vanguard force into the allies’ Bagua Formation. The vanguard force is defeated by the allies but Cao Cao shows no disappointment and proceeds to lead his main army to the riverbank directly opposite Red Cliff, where they make camp. While the allies throw a banquet to celebrate their victory, Zhuge Liang conceives a plan to send Sun Shangxiang on an espionage mission to Cao Cao’s camp. They maintain contact by sending messages via a pigeon. The film ends with Zhou Yu lighting his miniaturised battleships on a map based on the battle formation.

Abridged Version

For the non-Asian releases, the film was shortened from 288 minutes to 148 minutes and was released in some countries under the title Battle of Red Cliff. An opening narration in American English provides the historical background, whereas in the Asian release, a more brief description of the context of the political situation appears in scrolling form ten minutes into the film. Notable cuts include the background and motivations behind Zhuge Liang’s plan to obtain 100,000 arrows, including the threat to his life, and the early parts of Sun Shangxiang’s infiltration, where she befriended a northern soldier Sun Shucai (though the scene where she mourns Sun’s death was not cut). The tiger hunting scene was also cut from the non-Asian releases.

The original two-part 288 minute English version was released as a two-disc set on DVD and Blu-ray in the United Kingdom on 05 October 2009, and in the United States and Canada on 23 March 2010.


  • Tony Leung as Zhou Yu.
  • Takeshi Kaneshiro as Zhuge Liang.
  • Zhang Fengyi as Cao Cao.
  • Chang Chen as Sun Quan.
  • Zhao Wei as Sun Shangxiang.
  • Hu Jun as Zhao Yun.
  • You Yong as Liu Bei.
  • Lin Chi-ling as Xiao Qiao.
  • Shidō Nakamura as Gan Ning.
  • Hou Yong as Lu Su.
  • Tong Dawei as Sun Shucai.
  • Batdorj-in Baasanjab as Guan Yu.
  • Zang Jinsheng as Zhang Fei.
  • Song Jia as Lady Li.
  • Zhang Shan as Huang Gai.
  • Wang Hui as Cao Hong.
  • Xie Gang as Hua Tuo.
  • Shi Xiaohong as Jiang Gan.
  • Xu Fengnian as Zhang Liao.
  • Guo Chao as Yue Jin.
  • Hu Xiaoguang as Xiahou Jun.
  • Cui Yugui as Xu Chu.
  • Jiang Tong as Li Tong.
  • Ma Jing as Wei Ben.
  • Yizhen as Cai Mao.
  • Jia Hongwei as Zhang Yun.
  • Zhao Chengshun as Xun You.
  • Wang Zaolai as Cheng Yu.
  • Wang Ning as Emperor Xian of Han.
  • Wang Qingxiang as Kong Rong.
  • Li Hong as Lady Gan.
  • He Yin as Lady Mi.
  • Wang Yuzhang as Cheng Pu.
  • Menghe Wuliji as Guan Ping.
  • Sun Xinyu as Cowherd boy.
  • Ma Jingwu as Old fisherman.
  • Ye Hua as Tiantian.
  • Chen Changhai as Qin Song.
  • Zhang Yi as Zhang Zhao.
  • Wu Qi as Gu Yong.
  • He Feng as Man Tun.
  • Li Hongchen as Sick soldier.



Ken Watanabe was originally selected for the role of Cao Cao. According to a report, some Chinese fans voiced objections over the choice as they felt that it was inappropriate for a Japanese actor to portray an important Chinese historical figure. The report claimed that the protests influenced the decision of director John Woo, who eventually chose Zhang Fengyi for the role.

Chow Yun-fat was originally selected for the role of Zhou Yu, and had even earlier been considered for the role of Liu Bei. However, he pulled out on 13 April 2007, just as shooting began. Chow explained that he received a revised script a week earlier and was not given sufficient time to prepare, but producer Terence Chang disputed this, saying that he could not work with Chow because the film’s Hollywood insurer opposed 73 clauses in Chow’s contract. After just 2 days, Chow was replaced by Tony Leung, who had previously turned down the role of Zhuge Liang. Although he was exhausted after filming Lust, Caution; Leung offered to help because of his 20-year friendship with Woo.


Principal photography commenced in mid-April 2007. Shooting was held at a film studio in Beijing, as well as in Hebei province, where naval warfare was staged at two working reservoirs.

On 09 June 2008, a stuntman was killed in a freak fire accident that also left six others injured.

The digital visual effects in Red Cliff II were produced by Modus FX, The Orphanage, Frantic Films, Red FX and Prime Focus.

Woo said that this film differed from other films based on The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, including story-based dramas and Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon, because it “brings out more humane stories tangled with the characters’ psychology and life events.”


Production is helmed by Lion Rock Entertainment and China Film Group Corporation. Distributors were fast to clinch the deal before shooting even began. Distributors include Chengtian Entertainment (China), CMC Entertainment / 20th Century Fox Taiwan Branch (Taiwan), Mei Ah Entertainment (Hong Kong), Avex Group/Toho-Towa Co. (Japan), Showbox (South Korea), the Los Angeles-based Summit Entertainment (international), and Magnolia Pictures (United States).

Western critics also reacted positively to the film when the two parts were released as one film (148 minute version) in June 2009.


  • The film makers received help from the Chinese Army who lent them approximately 1500 soldiers to play extras and build roads.
  • With an estimated budget of US$80 million, it was the most expensive Asian-financed film to date.
  • During post-production, a 23-year-old stuntman was killed when fire broke out after a small boat rammed into a larger warship, while filming miniatures.
  • Shooting was held at a film studio in Beijing, as well as in Hebei province, where naval warfare was staged at two working reservoirs.
  • Dynasty Warriors, a video game is based on characters from this movie.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s):
    • John Woo.
  • Producer(s):
    • Terence Chang … producer.
    • Zilong Guo … co-producer (as Guo Zilong).
    • Sanping Han … producer (as Han Sanping).
    • Xiaoei Han … co-executive producer (as Han Xiaoei).
    • Bing He … co-producer (as He Bing).
    • Xiaofeng Hu … executive producer / line producer (as Hu Xiaofeng).
    • Chin-Wen Huang … co-producer (as Chin-Wen Huang).
    • Tao Jiang … chief producer.
    • Wu Kebo … co-producer (as Wu Kebo).
    • Woo-taek Kim … co-producer (as WooTaek Kim).
    • Sirena Liu … co-producer (as Liu Yan).
    • Hongshi Lu … co-executive producer (as Lu Hongshi).
    • Max Matsuura … co-producer (as Masato Matsuura).
    • Rick Nathanson … line producer.
    • Mingyu Peng … administrative producer (as Peng Mingyu).
    • Zhonglun Ren … co-producer (as Ren Zhonglun).
    • Dong-ming Shi … associate producer (as Shi Dongming).
    • Tsai-Yang Tang … administrative producer (as David Tang).
    • Zhan Teng … co-producer (as Teng Zhan).
    • Lori Tilkin … associate producer.
    • Jianqiu Wang … co-producer (as Wang Jianqiu).
    • Wei Wang … administrative producer.
    • Todd Weinger … associate producer.
    • Anne Woo … administrative producer.
    • John Woo … chief producer / producer.
    • Jianshai Xu … associate producer (as Xu Jianshai).
    • Pengle Xu … co-executive producer (as Xu Pengle).
    • Xiaoming Yan … co-producer (as Yan Xiaoming).
    • Shoucheng Yang … co-producer (as Yang Shoucheng).
    • Ju-Feng Yeh … administrative producer (as Yeh Ju Feng).
    • Cheri Yeung … administrative producer.
    • Dong Yu … associate producer (as Yu Dong) / co-producer (as Yu Dong).
    • Daxing Zhang … administrative producer.
    • Qiang Zhang … co-producer (as Zhang Qiang).
  • Writer(s):
    • John Woo … (screenplay).
    • Khan Chan … (screenplay) (as Chan Khan).
    • Cheng Kuo … (screenplay) (as Kuo Cheng).
    • Heyu Sheng … (screenplay) (as Sheng Heyu).
    • Guanzhong Luo … (novel).
  • Music:
    • Tarô Iwashiro.
  • Cinematography:
    • Yue Lü … director of photography (as Lu Yue).
    • Li Zhang … director of photography (as Zhang Li).
  • Editor(s):
    • Robert A. Ferretti.
    • Angie Lam.
    • Hongyu Yang … (as Yang Hong Yu).
  • Production:
    • Beijing Film Studio (presented by).
    • China Film Group Corporation (CFGC) (presented by).
    • Lion Rock Productions (presented by).
    • Shanghai Film Group (co-presented by).
    • China Movie Channel (co-presented by).
    • Beijing Poly-bona Film Publishing Company (co-presented by).
    • Beijing Forbidden City Film (co-presented by).
    • Chengdu Media Group (co-presented by).
    • Chengtian Entertainment (co-presented by).
    • Zoki Century International Culture Media Beijing Co. (co-presented by).
    • Beijing Guang Dian Film & Television Media Co. (co-presented by).
    • Beijing Jinyinma Movie & TV Culture Co. (co-presented by).
    • Emperor Multimedia Group (EMG) (co-presented by).
    • Avex Entertainment (co-presented by).
    • CMC Entertainment (co-presented by).
    • Showbox Entertainment (co-presented by).
  • Distributor(s):
    • China Film Group Corporation (CFGC) (2008) (China) (theatrical).
    • Batrax Entertainment (2008) (Non-US) (all media) (multi-territory).
    • Golden Village Pictures (2008) (Singapore) (theatrical).
    • Icon Film Distribution (2009) (Australia) (theatrical).
    • Independent Films (2009) (Netherlands) (theatrical).
    • Magnet Releasing (2009) (USA) (theatrical) (subtitled).
    • Magnolia Pictures (2009) (USA) (theatrical).
    • Mongkol Major (2008) (Thailand) (theatrical).
    • Showbox/Mediaplex (2008) (South Korea) (theatrical).
    • Toho-Towa (2008) (Japan) (theatrical).
    • Twentieth Century Fox (2008) (Taiwan) (theatrical).
    • Viva International Pictures (2009) (Philippines) (theatrical).
    • Ammo Content (2020) (Brazil) (video).
    • Ammo Content (2020) (Mexico) (video).
    • Ascot Elite Entertainment Group (2009) (Switzerland) (all media).
    • Bontonfilm (2008) (Czechia) (all media).
    • CMC Entertainment (2008) (Taiwan) (all media).
    • Channel 4 Television Corporation (2012) (UK) (TV).
    • Constantin Film (2008) (Germany) (all media).
    • David Distribucion (2009) (Mexico) (all media).
    • Eagle Pictures (2008) (Italy) (all media).
    • Emerald (2010) (Argentina) (DVD).
    • Entertainment One (2009) (Canada) (all media).
    • Europa Filmes (2010) (Brazil) (DVD).
    • Film1 (2010) (Netherlands) (TV) (limited).
    • Iris (2016) (Italy) (TV).
    • Jaguar Film International Distribution (2008) (all media) (Middle East).
    • Ledafilms (2009) (Mexico) (all media).
    • Magnolia Home Entertainment (2010) (USA) (DVD).
    • Magnolia Home Entertainment (2010) (USA) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
    • Mediacorp Raintree Pictures (2008) (Singapore) (all media).
    • Mei Ah Entertainment (2008) (Hong Kong) (all media).
    • Metropolitan Filmexport (2008) (France) (all media).
    • Nordisk Film (2009) (Finland) (DVD).
    • Nordisk Film (2009) (all media) (Scandinavia).
    • Odeon (2008) (Greece) (all media).
    • PT Amero Mitra Film (2008) (Indonesia) (all media).
    • Sahamongkol Film International (2008) (Thailand) (all media).
    • Scorpio East (2008) (Singapore) (all media).
    • Showbox Entertainment (2008) (South Korea) (all media).
    • TriPictures (2010) (Spain) (all media).
    • Warner Home Video (2010) (Netherlands) (DVD).
    • Warner Home Video (2010) (Netherlands) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
  • Release Date:
    • Part 01: 10 July 2008.
    • Part 02: 07 January 2009.
  • Rating: 15.
  • Running Time:
    • Part 01: 146 minutes.
    • Part 02: 142 minutes.
    • Total running time: 288 minutes.
    • Abridged version: 148 minutes.
  • Country: China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and US.
  • Language: Mandarin and English (subtitles).

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