The prodigal son’s prodigal film returns in its original form, if only for a day: John Woo’s uncut, nearly-five-hour-long Red Cliff, the biggest, most expensive movie ever made in China, is the July 4 centerpiece of the New York Asian Film Festival (this year at the Walter Reade).
Adapted from the 14th-century novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Woo’s spectacular homecoming arrived here last November relatively unheralded and chopped to half its running time. Seen as intended, Red Cliff is, as many suspected, the director’s magnum opus. The sweeping narrative is now replete with elaborate animal metaphors and additional meteorological incidents, not to mention excised subplots, stratagems, and saccharine sentimental interludes. There’s also a wonderfully convoluted ambush-cum-battle-sequence lasting half an hour and featuring baroque tactics to rival the flaming finale (this, too, is longer by half). Bottom line: Red Cliff is now 288 minutes, not one of them dull.