Background: 赤壁 (Chi Bi) is supposed to be a remake of the famous battle in the middle of the Three Kingdoms period. I heard from somewhere that it's one of the most expensive movies produced in China to date - although, it's hard to tell where all that money went. The director claims that he was trying to move away from the ROTK standards and stereotypes that was set by the classic novel of the Ming Dynasty and the original TV series, and instead be more faithful to the historical documents on the era. Unfortunately, his attempts seem to have failed.
Overall Impression: In my opinion, Chi Bi is the Chinese equivalent of Troy. A purposeful maligning of classical stories and history with modern "reinterpretations" and Hollywood flash-over-substance. And worse still, it's apparently only the first movie in a duology or even trilogy (cuz I certainly can't imagine them being able to finish the story in just 1 more movie given the pace the storyline is moving). The characters and characterizations have been modernized and "humanized" to their detriment, and have lost many of the qualities that made these characters into cultural heroes in the first place. In the end, the movie leaves the audience (as long as they are not ignorant of Chinese culture and history) with the impression that the Chinese filmmakers have sacrificed their own cultural heritage in order to make a film through the eyes of the modern western world on one of the most famous times of Chinese history. And that is just sad.
The most obvious problem, and my second biggest gripe, is the story told in this (first) movie. That is, over half of it is completely pulled out of some screenwriter/director's kiester.
I don't see the real necessity of showing the battle of Xin Ye in the beginning since it could well be glossed over with a few lines of dialogue or prologue, especially since they didn't include any of the classic scenes from that battle (Zhao Yun's 1 vs 50 duel against Cao Cao's forces, Zhang Fei scaring someone to death with his yell, Zhuge Liang running mental loops around the Wei forces in order for the evacuation to be successful).
I don't see the reason why we need to give so much screen time to Sun Quan, since he's not even a major character in the actual battle, and the efforts to convince him to go to war. The simple explanation that he listened to his trusted military adviser ought to be enough.
And, I don't see why the only battle scene that actually takes place at near Chi Bi is completely made up. Why Why Why?!?! Why is the only battle scene that was shown drawn from NOWHERE in history - whether historical documents or retellings?! What is the point of making up that stupid formation and all those stupid fight scenes, when you could just pull in the 草船借箭 story that actually belonged to that war? Gyah!
My view on the actors can be summed up easily - too many wannabe Japanese actors with too little quality acting between them. The movie spent so much effort trying to... I dunno... humanize or something, these iconic characters. But they also took away the core personalities that iconized these characters in the first place. It's like... like the Smallville version of Superman. Is this really the hero that everyone gets in their mind when the name is mentioned?
Cao Cao - Did not start the frikkin' war because of a girl. What is wrong with good ol' fashioned megalomania? Further, if he did actually start the war over the wife of a Wu general, why the hell did he attack Shu first instead of heading straight for Wu to begin with? Also, how can we see this as the guy who held half the empire's landmass and ruled the court with an iron thumb and ruthless guile, if he's going to be ignoring military dispatches in favor of a courtesan?
Liu Bei - This guy is supposed to ooze charisma. That was the only way his kingdom got anywhere. The guy himself is mediocre at everything, but attracted a huge following of talented and loyal followers. The Liu Bei of the movie, however, completely failed at this. Where is Liu Bei's charisma? Where is his idealism? Where is his silver tongue? Why do we instead get this old ugly wrinkly dude who stutters when he talks?
Guan Yu - This is the guy is worshiped as a war god in many places in China right now. But the guy playing him has no presence at all. What's with the high pitched girly voice? And where is his infamous steed Red Hare? Why was he fighting the made up battle ON FOOT?
Zhang Fei - Wasn't he supposed to be a butcher or some other lowly job before the war? And, y'know, illiterate? So why is he doing calligraphy in the movie? Also, they turned his yell (which is supposed to be able to scare someone to death) into freaking comedic relief.
Zhao Yun - My woobie!! One of the two guys I had serious crushes on from ROTK, and they made him ugly!! And ineffectual! This was one of the best fighters in the entire war! The computer and video game versions of him had a fighting rank of 99 (the only one that's higher is Lu Bu)! And...and...and...here he needs to be rescued by Zhou Yu.
Zhuge Liang - My other woobie!! The mastermind strategist who is also freaking worshiped in Chinese culture. Where are your stratagems? Where are your schemes? Where is your utter confidence and being 50 steps ahead of everyone else? Why are you instead chasing after Sun Quan's sister like a 17 year old who just discovered girls? I call Dr. Doom vs Squirrel Girl on this!
Zhou Yu - Spends way too much of his time with his wife. This is (supposed to be) a war flick, not a romance flick, and definitely not supposed to be a porn flick. -_-
The women - Absolutely unnecessary. You can either have it historically accurate, or you can make it a Hollywood soap opera. You can't have both. It's not sexist if the movie that takes place in a historical context that did not have any female roles, does not have any female characters. *headdesk* Either move the historical context if you want something with a female role, or don't expect anyone to take it seriously.
Maybe this should've gone under plot, but I don't see the necessity, whether dramatic or otherwise, of why we needed to spend 10 minutes watching a horse give birth. It has nothing to do with the story. It contributes nothing to the mood - we came here to see a war flick for goodness sakes! And it's guaranteed to give anyone the heebie jeebies to see Zhuge Liang stick his hands up a horse's... yeah.
Similarly, there's the scene with the dove. The camera followed it from Zhuge Liang's hand through Cao Cao's camp....and then nothing. What was the point of that?
These two scenes just smack of the movie trying to jerk the audience's chains for no real purpose at all.