Monday, November 30, 2009

Child of Fire, Red Cliff reviews

The weekend, while long, was busy. We hosted two events: Thanksgiving and my daughter's fourth birthday party. I wasted what little free time was left reading Child of Fire: A Twenty Palaces Novel and watching John Woo's historical epic Red Cliff.

Child of Fire came to my attention via John Scalzi's Big Idea series, where authors get to plug their new books. First-time author Harry Connolly wrote an entry about his book that intrigued me despite the book's atrocious name. I finally got around to picking up a copy of the book and reading it. It's very well written and I'm looking forward to his future work. Recommended if you like Dashiell Hammett or Chandler.

Red Cliff is based on a 3rd-century battle retold in the 14th century Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. When I worked at Midway we watched a bunch of Woo's films in preparation for working on a videogame with him. A lot of his trademark Wooisms can be found in this massive historical epic (cut down to 2.5 hours for US release). For instance, in Hard Boiled Chow Yun Fat's character blasts his way out of a hospital with a shotgun in one hand and a baby in the other. The opening of Red Cliff features a very similar incident, which I'm guessing was not in the original novel. Other Woo-bits include doves (of course) and Mexican standoffs, albeit with swords rather than guns. And random slo-mo of the duplicated-frame sort.

The characters felt really stale to me. I am interested in reading the original novel now to see if they are this one-dimensional there. The two characters that I felt stood out were Kong Rong (played by Wang Qingxiang), who was the tactical genius on the rebel side; and Xiao Qiao (played by Lin Chi-ling) who holds a Helen-of-Troy position in the story but with a strong Judith moment near the end.

I'd played one or two of the Dynasty Warriors games previously so a lot of the supporting hero characters (like Guan Yu) felt familiar. It is a little odd to have my scant historical knowledge derived from there, but that's how it is!

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