The full version of Red Cliff is actually two films, totaling over four hours. For the Western release, it’s chopped down to two-and-a-half hours. There was a representative at the screening I attended, asking people on their way out how they liked they film. I was tempted to respond, “nice and all, but I’d like to see the whole thing someday”.
The full release can’t fix all of the problems, like that it features one of the dullest sex scenes I have ever seen (quite a feat considering it features Tony Leung), and it would be bound to include even more trite scenes (such as the classic alliance-building scene of one blade of grass easily broken, but several woven together can resist). It would, however, spare us the horrible English voice-over at the beginning, and could perhaps give more power behind the many great action sequences.
John Woo is, after all, masterful at action, but perhaps not at scale. The film is gorgeous (I loved the paper lanterns rising), the battles are clear and not difficult to follow (and have some great maneuvers with only a little wire-fu), but we just aren’t made to care all that much most of the time. Takeshi Kaneshiro’s military strategist is a lot of fun, and of course Tony Leung would be worth seeing in a dramatic staging of the phone book, but it’s just not enough.
If you want to see Leung break your heart in wire-fu, rent Hero. To see him & Woo work action magic (with Chow Yun-Fat), rent Hard Boiled. For Kaneshiro, try House of Flying Daggers or Chungking Express & Fallen Angels.