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RED CLIFF – Tarô Iwashiro

November 20, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

An epic historical Chinese action-adventure directed by the legendary John Woo, Red Cliff stars Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen and Zhao Wei and, with an estimated budget of US$80 million, is the most expensive Chinese ever made. It tells – on an enormous scale – the essentially true story of the fall of the Han dynasty at the end of the second century AD; specifically, it follows the machinations of different political leaders and military strategists from various ancient Chinese kingdoms, all of whom want to inherit the power that would come with the unification of the country in the aftermath of enormous Battle of Red Cliff, in which a million soldiers fought.

Having spent millions on lavish costumes, staggering production design, and a literal cast of thousand, Woo chose Japanese composer Tarô Iwashiro to compose his film’s sprawling score. Despite having written music for over 40 films since making his debut in 1992, Iwashiro is virtually unknown in the west; having heard his music for Red Cliff, this could all change very soon. Anyone familiar with the Western-style music of composers such as Tan Dun or Shigeru Umebayashi will understand what Red Cliff sounds like; huge orchestra, sweeping themes, a large helping of traditional Chinese instruments alongside the western symphony, and a rather ‘old fashioned’ feel which, ironically, makes the music actually sound fresh and vital when compared to more electronic modern scores.

The opening theme, “The Battle of Red Cliff”, is dignified and heroic, and its tonalities form the cornerstone of the rest of the score, which is just as dignified and heroic throughout. Some of Iwashiro’s action writing is superb, often making use of aggressive war drums and heraldic brass phrases to rouse the troops into action. Cues such as “On the Battlefield”, “Shooooot!”, “Closing in Upon the Enemy” and “Beyond the River” are excellent pieces full of driving rhythms and trumpet fanfares that are very impressive indeed; elsewhere, “Decision for Justice” features a clever heraldic brass triplet, keeping time under the rest of the music.

At the other end of the scale, cues such as the beautiful “Light of the Evanescence” have a more romantic, tender, noble sweep, with lilting strings and harp glissandi; the increased brass presence in the otherwise similar “Shadow of the Evanescence” is simply outstanding; the prominent woodwinds in “Precious One” give the score a much needed moment of gentleness and intimacy; the interplay between oboe, harp and strings during “In Loneliness” is simply delightful. There is also a nimble scherzo in “Secret Stratagem”, which dances through the orchestra with lightness and energy, underpinned by woodblocks and other tapped percussion items, contributing further to the sprightliness of the piece. Even the two Chinese-language songs at the end, performed by Tibetan singer Alan (who is female), are really lovely.

This is a very impressive international debut score by Iwashiro, which will undoubtedly appeal to anyone who likes their film music on the larger, thematic side, especially when it has an Oriental flavor.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • The Battle of Red Cliff (3:05)
  • On the Battlefield (8:43)
  • Light of the Evanescence (2:32)
  • Shadow of the Evanescence (2:26)
  • Shooooot! (1:43)
  • Decision for Justice (3:58)
  • Secret Stratagem (1:51)
  • Closing in Upon the Enemy (4:13)
  • Unseen Locus (3:01)
  • Precious One (5:22)
  • Sound of Heartstrings (1:35)
  • In Loneliness (5:35)
  • Beyond the River (4:19)
  • Red Cliff (End Roll Version)/Theme Song of Part I [Asia Version] (performed by Alan) (7:12)
  • Outroduction of Legend (5:16)
  • Red Cliff – River of No Return (End Roll Version)/Theme Song of Part II (performed by Alan) (3:32)

Running Time: 64 minutes 23 seconds

Silva Screen SILCD-1296 (2009)

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