From the opening notes of “The Battle of Red Cliff” Taro Iwashiro’s soundtrack for Red Cliff – the (reportedly) most expensive Chinese language film ever made – is impressively epic and stirringly original. Iwashiro’s work on John Woo’s film has already won Best Original Film Score at the 2009 Hong Kong Film Festival and with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra delivering each of Iwashiro’s dramatic pieces in tight, deliberate time it’s abundantly clear why. The Japanese born Iwashiro may not be familiar to most American audiences, but over the last decade he’s been working increasingly more and more often – in 2009 alone, he has written scores for five films.

Though I’m not familiar with any of the other work Iwashiro is putting out this year, the score for Red Cliff is enough to get me interested. Ranging from quietly emotional (“Light of the Evanescence”, “In Loneliness”) to downright battle-ready (“Shooooot!”, “Closing In Upon the Enemy”) Iwashiro has the cinematic aspects of an epic war movie score down pat.  Iwashiro sets the tone early on with the lengthy second track “On the Battlefield.” Here we are privy to most of the themes we’ll be hearing throughout the album, complete with rhythmic drumbeats offset by quickly flowing strings that provide a backdrop of emotional resonance. Both sides of the musical personality of this track get their due throughout the rest of the album. Think of Trevor Jones’ work on Last of the Mohicans with a Chinese twist and you’re part of the way there. Iwashiro’s music has all the solid elements you listen for in a score like this. The somewhat experimental sounding “Sound of Heartstrings” – which consists of quickly plucked strings and off-kilter drumming shows up towards the end to remind us that Iwashiro can do more than deliver the action music we’re used to in epic scores of this sort.

And just when it seems that you’ve got Iwashiro’s number, there are two outstanding theme pieces rounding the album out featuring J-Pop star alan.  Throughout both theme tracks (separated by the excellent and gently rolling “Outroduction Of Legend”) alan showcases her delicate vocals. I have no idea what she’s sing about and I think it might be better that way – the lyrics are beautiful enough without understanding what she’s saying – and risking their ruination via cheesy sentimentality.

Overall, this is one of my favorite soundtracks of 2009. Anyone that enjoys film music is sure to find something here to get excited about.

Zach’s Rating: A
Perfect For: Anyone who loves a good action score
Stay Away if: You’re looking for short, shallow tracks

To purchase music from Red Cliff, visit Amazon

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