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Hero – Jet Li, Ziyi Zhang

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Hero – Jet Li, Ziyi Zhang, Maggie Cheung, Donnie Yen, Daoming Chen

Director: Zhang Yimou

The Cantonese beginning scrolling text reads something like this:

Two thousand years ago China was divided into seven kingdoms which battled for supremacy. The king of Qin was the most ruthless ruler, and he wanted to conquer the entire land and unify all under heaven. The other six kingdoms sent assassins to kill him.

When Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon came to the United States , it showed us how incredible Chinese filmmaking can be. The wire work, the martial arts ballet, and the intricate characters set in a visually stunning background of natural and man-made beauty that is China . Hero continues in this vein with the story of a man with no name, Nameless, who is allowed to approach the king from within 10 paces, which is a great honor as no one else is allowed to be within 100 paces. How he got there is the story which unfolds.

We learn of three other assassins who have made attempts on the king’s life; Sky, Flying Snow, and Broken Sword. Broken Sword has an apprentice named Moon, who is the young girl from Crouching Tiger . Nameless tells of a love triangle and his story of how he took down the skilled triumvirate. The flashback sequences are surreal as they show only the characters specifically involved, complete with incredible martial arts work. Nameless weaves his tale of victory and presents himself to the king as an ally. But the king is wise.

Cinematography is a dying art. Americans tend to be stuck in a rut, considering they live in a morass of Generica this is to be expected. The Chinese have not lost their touch. Hero is divided into several stories which all have their own color-tone to them. The colors have universal meaning and help teach the story, and make an artistic impression. When you see two green robed kung fu experts battling thousands of white robed soldiers, it’s just incredible. Water is used in a couple places as a significant character in the story.

In comparison to Crouching Tiger , the martial arts in this film have a lot more weapons involvement. The Flying Snow vs. Moon scene in the autumn forest is superb, as is the opening scene of Sky vs. Nameless. They are fast-paced sequences that never get boring or repetitive. Jet Li’s acting is quite impressive. The music in this film was also well done. The same style of music as Crouching Tiger was used, but I think they were original works. The stringed instruments played very well with the scenery and acting events.

Hero is far less religious than Crouching Tiger yet still relies on an underlying Taoist and Buddhist paradigm of temporal ethereality. The religious aspect comes out in a marriage of calligraphy and martial arts by Broken Sword, pondered by Nameless, and understood by the king of Qin. There is also an achievement of perfection by the martial artists which harkens to Buddhist enlightenment. I find these religious ideas to be a little silly, but they make for interesting movie fantasy drama.

You can read this and other interesting things at my blog.

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About Russell Mann

  • It’s the use of color in this movie that’s breath-taking. The director (Zhang Yimou) literally paints his screen with rich and saturated color. Even the scene in the grey, rainy stone temple vibrates with color! (It would undoubtedly help Westerner viewers to know the Chinese cultural meaning of the colors used. White=death; red=royalty and war; etc.)

    Only a couple of directors come to mind who do something similar: New Zealand’s Vince Ward and England’s Peter Greenaway. I can’t count the number of moments in this movie that I wish were large canvasses we could stand before and marvel at. It’s just that beautiful!

    Coming to American theaters on August 20th in limited rerelease.

  • Eric Olsen

    Very fine job Russell, I can almost see the colors. Thanks and welcome! And a double endorsement from Mike!

  • Ah, found a Chinese color reference here

  • This movie has been out for well over a year and the DVD (with English subtitles) has been on sale on Asian sites for almost as long. It might be a cheaper option for many. Also be sure to read up about how the movie was originally over 2 hours long, with more character development, but Zhang Yimou was forced by Miramax influence to edit it down to 1.5 hours ‘so as to be more accessible to American audiences’.

  • Dude – Russell! Are you stalking me, man?

    Seriously, welcome to Blogcritics, and I’m definitely going to catch this movie. I wish I could watch the longer version on the big screen. 🙁

  • Sorry, perhaps this needs clarification. The version that is over 2 hours has never been released. The 1.5 hour Miramax version was shown in Asia as well, and that is the version found on the DVDs as well. I’m waiting for a Director’s Cut as well.

  • Good review.