The epic struggle begun in the Hu Empire in Red Cliff: Part 1 continues in Red Cliff: Part 2. Red Cliff: Part 2 exceeds Red Cliff: Part 1 in a two notable categories: suspense and intrigue. When it comes to intrigue and by extension subterfuge, the spotlight falls heavily on Sun Quan (Chang Chen)’s sister Sun Shangxiang (Zhao Wei) and Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kanehiro), military strategist and retainer of Lui Bei (You Yong). Shangxiang does exactly what she said she would do at the end of Red Cliff: Part 1. How anyone could mistake Shangxiang for a boy is beyond reason especially since she does not alter her face or her voice in any way. A similar statement though can be said of Clark Kent as he traipsed through the Daily Planet full of investigative reporters. Perhaps it is an example of what intrepid spies call “hiding in plain sight”. Zhuge Liang shows what a brilliant strategist he is yet again in Red Cliff: Part 2. Not only is he intelligent, he is able to apply past, unrelated experiences to current military situations, thinking outside of them and in many cases, outfoxing the fox, Prime Minister Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi).
Building upon the foundations set in place in Red Cliff: Part 1, Red Cliff: Part 2 does not so much as exceed the former as it does develop established characters and broaden the story of Red Cliff: Part 1, especially the strategic aspects behind it. The two characters that benefit most from the fleshing out of the sub-plots are Sun Shangxiang and Cao Cao. Shangxiang is far more of a resourceful person than the perspiration given of her in Red Cliff: Part 1, as well as courageous and an apt utilizer of subterfuge. Seeing her subtly manipulate those around her, including a special friend whom likes to play “Ride’em High”, even as her conscience gives her pings of guilt, makes her spying segments in Cao Cao’s camp that much more richer.
Cao Cao is humanized to a greater extent in Red Cliff: Part 2, rendering him far more than a black and white villain. He is as human as the people he opposes yet he is power hunger, causing his former and current actions and thus, rendering him the antagonist.
Both sides have already demonstrating that they have the capability to combat their enemy with their minds as well as their arms in Red Cliff: Part 1. In Red Cliff: Part 2, it becomes obvious that the mind is the most important weapon both sides have. During the film, the mind is used to turn short falls into advantage and disaster into small victory.
Throughout Red Cliff: Part 2 there is balance between the action and the drama, in the middle of and behind the battles. The largest segments of this nature are the “donation” of arrows, the outbreak of typhoid fever and the final confrontation between the armies. Brilliant strategies are employed during these segments of the film but what motivates the majority of the actions during them are equally intriguing, sometimes even more so.
The second segment of John Woo’s Red Cliff is more action based film than its predecessor but that in no way hinders the film’s dramatic aspects in the least bit. Because of this, Red Cliff: Part 2 has more than a few commonalities with The Brotherhood of War (Taegukgi Hwinallimyo), Braveheart, Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut, and Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte des loups). Like these films, Red Cliff 2 performs a juggling act, satisfying three audiences at the same time: drama, action and historic drama (for the most part) lovers.