Released in China as two movies but edited down to a single feature for U.S. release, John Woo's 2008 historical drama takes place early in the third century, when the Han Dynasty, having won a civil war in the north, set out to crush two troublemaking warlords in the south. The battle scenes are everything one might expect: the ringing of engraved blades, blood spray in the open air, swordsmen on horseback wading into foot soldiers as if they were threshing wheat. More impressive, though, are Woo's balancing of the epic and the intimate and his contrasting of male and female power. Running like a gold thread through the war story is the relationship between Zhou Yu (Tony Leung), the southern military strategist; Xiao Qiao (Lin Chi-ling), his devoted wife; and Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi), the northern commander, who covets her. At first the married couple's tender scenes serve mostly as relief from the thundering conflict, but by the end Xiao Qiao has turned her feminine strengths into a weapon as effective as any sword.
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Selected films making their Chicago premieres at the festival through Thursday, October 15