Just finished watching part one of the international release of Red Cliff, which is John Woo's 4-5 hour epic treatment of the 14th Century novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I had rented it through Netflix, but I was impressed enough to buy the blu-ray version to own. Hopefully, part two delivers as well as part one did.
In terms of martial arts movies, this one isn't straight forward hand-to-hand combat. There's definite skills of that kind in evidence, but the battles are often much larger scale. In any case, the battles are massive in size and very well shot. There are a few over the top acrobatics that make you roll your eyes a little bit, and they are especially unwelcome given the generally gritty feel of the battles. I think the excess was too much given the already impressive battle choreography.
Although there is a big epic sweep in the scope of the movie, there is a strong focus on characters as well. It's a little tough to keep all the players straight at first, but you slowly catch on as to who is who and who's on what side. I especially like the loud, wild haired general (not sure what his name was), as well as the tomboy princess. The two male leads (played by Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro who also starred in the excellent House of Flying Daggers) are great characters, though there is a bit of homoeroticism involved in their connection that I have to admit I enjoy a bit! In any case, the balance of intimate character scenes and big battles is nearly perfect.
The blu-ray came today, and I'm sure I'll be watching part two this weekend! Can't wait to see how it all ends!