When Zhuge goes to take help from Zhou yu in Red Cliff, they have one musical duel, you can see it here. It was Quite interesting.

I am not good with music, but I heard that each tone of Zhou is louder while the reply of Zhuge is a little bit in low tone and one can understand that it's in a peaceful manner.

After that duel, Lu su told Zhuge that "We have not talked on the point which is the reason for the visit." And Zhuge replies that they will fight together.

So, I just want to know if it was a simple musical duet or if they have communicated with their music, and if yes, what was the chat about?

  • woo's movie always have pleasant music..
    – Bharat
    Oct 6, 2017 at 5:09

1 Answer 1


Your assumptions are right on the money. The scene was constructed to let these two heroes bond as well as communicate, displaying the similarities and the contrasts between them. Says the film's director John Woo in this interview:

First of all, our character [Zhou Yu], played by Tony Leung - in real history, he was a musician [see last paragraph here]. He knows so much about music, but at the meantime, he was always a great leader. And I took the idea of jazz. I have desgined the scene to let the two heroes, Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang, Tony and Takeshi - they were using music to communicate each other. I think it made the scene more fun and I had never seen anything like it before in any of the Chinese movies.

Actor Takeshi Kaneshiro who plays Zhuge Liang elaborates about the musical duel:

The director said a high level skill wasn't that important. He wanted us to communicate the contrast of war and peace between the two heroes, and he wanted us to do it by playing the zither. The facial expression was what was important.

The scene is also a thematic and cinematic homage to the famous guitar and banjo 'duel' between two players from different walks of life in John Boorman's film Deliverance, where a suburban man and a rural boy bond over a musical duet. Similarly, Zhuge and Zhou 'duel' to relieve the tension between them, display their different ideologies and eventually understand each other and unite. From Kenneth E. Hall's book John Woo: The Films:

[Red Cliff] Editor David Wu confirmed that his intent was to recall the Boorman film. [...] Unlike the scene in 'Deliverance' Woo's scene is a case of warfare by other means. The latent rivalry between leaders Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu must be resolved, and the musical duel is a harmless means of partially defusing it.

And I think I agree with your analysis of their styles. It makes sense that Zhou, the militant leader, will initially display a more aggressive tone while Zhuge, the clever and calm strategist who's hinted to be of humble farming origins, will prefer a more subtle, reflective tune. But I'd say that in the end, their styles more or less combine into a turbulent, rhytmic duet - telling us our two heroes must now join forces, and win the war together.

  • a very very deep answer, what I expected, and thanks for sharing Zhou yu's wiki, I found that "If there is a problem with the tune, Zhou Yu will look up.".. thanks!! It will be great if you add more info like this, if possible..
    – Bharat
    Oct 12, 2017 at 5:15
  • 1
    Thanks for replying (and for the interesting question). I did debate including that detail about Zhou Yu, but wasn't 100% sure it fit the scene and opted for a breadcrumb trail instead. ;)
    – Walt
    Oct 12, 2017 at 6:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .