Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Red Cliff

It’s rare to watch a film that just… blows you away.

But John Woo’s epic – in the true meaning of the word – Red Cliff has done just that; left me, open-mouthed and popcorn forgotten, staring at the screen and unable to move. Quite literally, trembling in my seat. From the opening sequences of Zhao Yun’s mythological bravery as he attempts to rescue Liu Bei’s trapped family, to the final assault on Cao Cao given so exquisitely gracefully by Xiao Qiao over a cup of Chinese tea, this is three hours of glorious, sensuous, overwhelming and occasionally bloodily terrifying cinematography.

There were too many moments during which I completely forgot to breathe.

If you’re familiar with the Koei game Dynasty Warriors, you’ll know the plot – these are the final battles of the end of the Han Dynasty and the rise of The Three Kingdoms – though Woo deliberately refrained from using the romanticised version of the history. His need for authenticity really shows: it’s good to see Emperor Cao Cao, traditionally a black hat, show heroism, courage and obsessive love as well as cruelty and dominance… every scene has a powerful character, a strong driving force and colossal impact. This isn’t about ‘good’ and ‘evil’, this is about bitter politics and heroic savagery. It’s filmed like a fantasy – but it carries that taste of grit-between-the-teeth that always marks Woo’s work. It’s real.

The battle sequences are, quite literally, awesome – more believable than the equivalent CGI in LOTR. The precise military strategy of Zhuge Liang underpins the legendary heroism of the generals – and gives them a solid edge of warrior credibility. This was what 300 didn’t do – the tactics and fighting are historically accurate, detailed and utterly believable (the Spartans weren’t skirmishers, dammit!). You’ll find yourself watching the astounding ‘tortoise’ sequence, hands gripping the edge of your seat and heart thumping in your mouth… and every drum-beat, every troop movement, are both almighty and exact.

As well as the violence, Red Cliff has many moments of gentleness. While Woo can’t film a sex scene for toffee, the warrior maiden Sun Shangxiang, spying in Cao Cao’s camp, has a wonderful and doomed friendship with an unexpectedly promoted footballer – and the relationship between Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang frankly verges on homoerotic.

There’s not enough space to talk about every marvel this film showed – siege engines and blossoming greek fire and a vast flotilla of burning boats, swordplay and wirework too polished to describe… too many wonders for words. And it’s not just the fighting; it’s breadth of vision and sensitivity and cross-cutting, a measured and beautiful cadence to the language, and moments of the most touching humanity.

This isn’t just ‘Hardboiled with spears’. Reader, writer, watcher or critic, this will make you re-evaluate every battle-scene you’ve ever imagined…

…and do them bigger.

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Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Q: When Is A Sex Toy Not A Sex Toy?

Marketing has several cornerstones – targeted relevance, personal contact, customer service, the hallowed spin of the Rolodex… and sex.

And there are just times when something is so obvious, when it stares you in the face, when the innuendo is obvious, glorious and hilarious…

Yet no-one will squeak, publicly anyway. It’s the Emperor’s New Clothes.

A: When it’s a rocket

1978, the Forbidden Planet rocket was launched from a little comic book store in Denmark Street, London – a store still remembered with great fondness by many of my Twitter friends. It’s a street of music shops now – but it still has a bohemian feel that hearkens back to the chilled out, long-hair-and-bell-bottoms memories we have of those times.

In 1988, to commemorate the move from Denmark Street to New Oxford Street in the West End, Forbidden Planet commissioned acclaimed artist Rian Hughes to create the now-world-famous rocket logo and typeface.

In 2008, when Forbidden Planet celebrated its 30th anniversary, we decided to celebrate the New Age of Geek by fusing our long past with today’s street-smart, contemporary art – how better to tie the old with the new than to recreate the cult classic Forbidden Planet rocket in hot, Urban Vinyl 3D?

In 2009, a worldwide exclusive of 350 pieces, the realisation of this fusion has been designed by 3D vinyl artist Matt ‘Lunartik’ JOnes.

And it’s fantastic.

Lunartik’s has also done his own - and signed it!

I know – you know, we all know – that it looks like a toy of a slightly different persuasion (you should see some of the Direct Messages I’ve received via Twitter!). And not only online – it’s caused many behind-closed-doors, unrepeatable comments in the Titan House office.

But y’know what? Aside from the sexiness of a genuine 3D Brand, they work because of their insinuation. They’re perfect urban vinyl – daring, contentious, suggestive, genius.

We have them right here, right now and they – you know I have to say this – absolutely rock!

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